Children these days are inundated with diagnoses for “bad” behaviour: if they haven’t got major depression they have bipolar disorder, or ADHD; if they don’t endure infrequent counselling then they’re prescribed therapy or medication. Or all three.
Too many diagnoses are bogus, that’s true, But far too many are not, and too few parents and clinicians have any clue about causes.
So what’s happening? Both parents and clinicians may be “barking up the wrong tree” says psychologist Victoria Dunckley, who suggests too many of both have refused to look at the bloody obvious.
That is, they’re trying to treat what looks like a textbook case of mental disorder, but failing to rule out and address the most common environmental cause of such symptoms—everyday use of electronics.
In short, as if you didn’t realise, screentime is making your children “moody, crazy and lazy.”
Time and again, [says Dunckley] I’ve realised that regardless of whether there exists any “true” underlying diagnoses, successfully treating a child with mood dysregulation today requires methodically eliminating all electronics use for several weeks—an “electronics fast”—to allow the nervous system to “reset.” …
But why is the electronic fast intervention so effective? Because it reverses much of the physiological dysfunction produced by daily screen time.
Children’s brains are much more sensitive to electronics use than most of us realise. In fact, contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t take much electronic stimulation to throw a sensitive and still-developing brain off track. Also, many parents mistakenly believe that interactive screen-time—Internet or social media use, texting, emailing, and gaming—isn’t harmful, especially compared to passive screen time like watching TV. In fact, interactive screen time is more likely to cause sleep, mood, and cognitive issues, because it’s more likely to cause hyperarousal and compulsive use.
Dunckley lists “six physiological mechanisms that explain electronics’ tendency to produce mood disturbance”:
- Screen time disrupts sleep and desynchronizes the body clock
- Screen time desensitizes the brain’s reward system
- Screen time produces “light-at-night”
- Screen time induces stress reactions
- Screen time overloads the sensory system(link is external), fractures attention(link is external), and depletes mental reserves
- Screen-time reduces physical activity levels and exposure to “green time”
In today’s world, she says,
it may seem crazy to restrict electronics so drastically. But when kids are struggling, we’re not doing them any favors by leaving electronics in place and hoping they can wind down by using electronics in "moderation." It just doesn't work. In contrast, by allowing the nervous system to return to a more natural state with a strict fast, we can take the first step in helping a child become calmer, stronger, and happier.
Or to put it anther way, Put that bloody iPad down NOW and go outside!
[Hat tip Maria Montessori Education Foundation]