Some paediatricians have estimated that up to 80% of the kids they are seeing who are being medicated for ADHD, anxiety, depression and mood swings do not have these disorders at all. There are simpler remedies like reducing screen time, for example. The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines on cutting down screen time (at present a whopping 7 hours a day) are listed here.
Parents and teachers have noticed how too much screen time is making kids surly, bored and are permanently “wired and tired”. But what is actually happening to the child’s brain? Researchers have shown that the frontal lobe development is actually being retardedby all this screen time. This is the part of the brain which is responsible for the child’s attention span, controlling emotions and empathic skills. Staying connected may mean that your child is becoming disconnected from real life!
Let us look now at how screen time is affecting your child’s brain.
Screen time is interfering with brain development
It is scary to think that a child’s brain is growing at an enormous rate and in the first year of life, it actually grows by 300%. Now, let the baby look at a ball rolling across a tablet screen. It is a two dimensional process and there is no tactile or other stimuli. Let the child play with a real ball and she will experience three dimensions, the movement, grab it, touch it or even try to eat it. The child is experiencing the real world and that can never be replaced by what is happening on a screen.
Screen time is delaying learning to talk
The best way to get a child to talk is by interacting and talking to him. The kid can watch the facial expressions, smile, hear the tone of voice, experiment with the sounds and notice the body language. All these are essential and complex processes in learning to talk. No screen, game or video can replace the joy of learning from human interaction. A robot might, but let’s not go there!
Screen time can reduce the number of words a child learns
Did you know that a parent uses 940 words an hour when chatting to a toddler? Guess what happens when the TV is on. The number of words the parent uses falls to 770. That means the toddler is learning fewer words over time.
Screen time can affect a child’s physical and mental health
There are lots of studies that show that a sedentary lifestyle is bad for a child’s or teen’s physical health. One study shows that watching more than 2 hours of TV a day led to poor physical fitness, lower self-esteem and poorer academic achievement.
What can we do as parents?
There are innumerable factors such as the home environment, social economic status and school which can also negatively impact a child’s development. But one inescapable fact is that too much screen time is preventing our kids from doing sports, reading, playing outdoors, and talking (and fighting!) with siblings.
Reducing screen time is one suggestion which does not cost you a cent. At the worst, nothing will change although it is difficult to imagine that things might be worse.
An excellent book to help you actually carry out this is Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time by Dr. Victoria Dunckley. She recommends that parents implement a strict electronic ‘fast’ just for a few weeks. There can be a dramatic improvement in sleep quality, mood, focus and behavior.
Many parents will recoil from the idea of having to stop their childrenusing cell phones and laptops for a while. The book is full of practical suggestions on how to do this. The rewards are well worth the initial effort and struggle.