What would you say if I told you that 15.5% of elementary students, grades 1-5 have been diagnosed with ADHD? Recent data from the National Health Center showed that as of 2015, 10.2% of children ages 5-15 were diagnosed with ADHD. From 1980 to 2007, the diagnosis of ADHD in the pediatric population increased by 800 percent! These dramatic increases indicate that the cause may not just be genetic. Experts are looking to environmental factors to explain the sharp rise in ADHD among children. According to Victoria Dunckley, M.D., the answer could be in the palm of your hand.
As reported by Dunckley, integrative child psychiatrist and author of the book, Reset Your Child’s Brain, technology is having a negative impact on our children’s brain health and development. Electronic Screen Syndrome (ESS), is the result of over exposure to screens in the forms of video game systems, tablets, and smart phones. Electronics can overstimulate and deregulate a child’s nervous system. The added overstimulation and stress cause children to have issues with mood, focus, sleep, and behavior. (Dunckley)
How does Electronic Screen Syndrome affect children?
Constantly interacting with the artificial stimuli that screens supply, shifts the nervous system into a stressed mode. Our brains and bodies are meant to handle some stress, but repeated stress can overwhelm our body’s ability to adapt. Usually, high stress levels normalize when followed by an appropriate discharge of energy (think fight or flight). However, screen time is generally paired with a lot of sitting. Where does the energy go? According to Dunckley, it gets released in the form of a tantrum or other inappropriate behavior. Dunckley further points out that if we were to look inside a brain engaged in screen-time, we would see that brain getting too much activity in some areas, such as reward pathways, and not enough in other areas such as the regions associated with empathy. This leads to fragmented brain development, making it less flexible and resilient. (Dunckley) One of the strongest impact of screens on the brain is with regards to sleep. The unnatural, bright light from a smart phone or tablet slows the production of the sleep signal, melatonin. Lack of melatonin desynchronizes the body clock resulting in poor sleep and disrupted hormone cycles. In fact, weight gain and high blood pressure related to screen-time could be a result of constantly high stress hormones, as well as being overly sedentary. (Dunckley)
What behaviors are associated with ESS?
- Oppositional-defiant behaviors
- Social immaturity
- Poor eye contact
- Learning difficulties
- Poor memory
- Lack of focus
- Disorganized behaviors
Children with underlying issues such as ADHD and Autism will display more severe versions of the symptoms. Often these children are more likely to be drawn to screens. Parents can mistake the kids’ “quiet” behavior while playing on a tablet as improvement. Try taking the screen away, and you soon realize that the screen was only masking the issues! (Dunckley)
Parents worry that their child will be the only one without a tablet, or that he won’t make friends, or learn the latest technology. That is not the case. For young children the importance of being screen free is to allow their brains to naturally develop strong neuronal connections. The brain’s most rapid growth is during the first few years of life. Assaulting those brains with digital media is preventing them from reaching their true potential academically and socially. Children benefit so much more from human interaction and outdoor play. Let our children’s brains grow and develop so that they can withstand the effects of the latest technology and be able to use the appropriately and proficiently when they get older.
What can parents do to help their children?
- Dunckley suggests an electronic fast, 3-4 weeks of strict removal of all electronic media. Doing so, will help reset your child’s brain, allowing you to focus on what is really going on with your child, without having to deal with the added behavior issues. (Dunckley)
- Encourage your child to engage in other activities. Have a family game night. Help your child find a sports team or club to join.
- Brainjogging twice a day can help children get their brains back in sync. The exercises in Brainjogging target the areas of the brain controlling focus, attention, memory, and processing. Brainjogging’s simple design and quick exercises make it highly effective for all children.
While most parents start their children on Brainjogging for academic reasons, the first change they notice, is in their child’s behavior. A child who is out of sync, will have trouble regulating his emotions and behavior. A child who has made the important connections in the brain is in sync will be more flexible, more resilient, and will demonstrate improved behavior and focus!