For the last few years, many eyeMDs and I have commented that someday giving a young child a cell phone, laptop, computer or an iPad for hours-on-end might be considered equivalent to child abuse. These are strong words, but the site below makes me think of the damage caregivers do to children when they give their child a cell phone, especially without filters or with a browser. As many of you know, Google makes billions from porn each year. They and other companies and the gaming industry have every incentive to have your child, your spouse, your loved one addicted to thier product on screens.
Why are parents not more upset about this? I suspect they do not know the long term damage such addiction can cause.
I do not know Dr. Dunckley but I applaud her effort to break kids and adults from their addiction.
A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time
Do you have a child struggling with emotional, learning, sensory, or behavioral issues that are so disruptive you’re pulling your hair out? Does the littlest thing set them off? Does your child seem “wired and tired”–that is, agitated but exhausted at the same time? Are you trying different treatments and strategies but nothing’s working?
What if one simple and free intervention provided dramatic improvement across a broad range symptoms– regardless of diagnosis? Would you be willing to try it for a month, even if it seemed inconvenient or “too hard” at first glance? (Spoiler alert: parents always say the program was much easier than they imagined it to be!)
As you may have guessed, I firmly believe all of these trends are linked to the daily barrage of stimulating screen-time on the sensitive nervous system of growing children. But before you let any feelings of doubt or overwhelm deter you, read on. Understanding the scientific rationale first will help you be open to what I propose.
Why Interactive Screen-time Wreaks Havoc on the Nervous System
Because electronic screen media is unnaturally intense in terms of sensory, cognitive, and psychological input–designed to keep the user engaged–it tends to overstimulate nervous system. The brain interprets all this stimulating input as a form of stress. This in turn triggers fight-or-flight reactions and a high state of arousal, making it difficult to wind down and sleep deeply.
Each time a child picks up a screen device, not one but many changes occur in the brain that lead to overstimulation and hyperarousal. Reward pathways are strongly activated which eventually become desensitized. Large amounts of dopamine are released. Blue-toned light (inherent to screens) desynchonizes the body clock and suppresses melatonin, the sleep signal. Vivid colors and rapid changes in movement or page loads overwhelm the visual system. Enormous amounts of information are taken in and processed, draining mental reserves and fracturing attention. Media multi-tasking and interactivity raise arousal and stress levels. Manmade radiation from both the device and from wireless communications perturb brain waves.
Over time, these changes lead to chronic stress, resulting in blood flow shifting from the more developed part of the brain (frontal lobe) to the more primitive parts of the brain. Because the frontal lobe governs emotional regulation, attention, creativity, and social behavior, any of these areas can become impaired. Chronic stress also raises cortisol levels, which complicates frontal lobe functioning even further. High cortisol impairs the hippocampus (needed for memory), disturbs sleep, and eventually causes atrophy (shrinkage) of the brain. (It also causes weight gain and high blood sugar.)
When the changes become significant enough to impact frontal lobe functioning–or in other words how the child feels, thinks, behaves, or socializes–on a day-to-day basis, this is what I call Electronic Screen Syndrome (ESS).
Because of the impact on the frontal lobe and other parts of the brain and body, Electronic Screen Syndrome can mimic or exacerbate virtually any psychiatric disorder. This phenomenon has lead to rampant misdiagnosis, inappropriate use of medication, and misuse of mental health and education resources. Medications, in turn, often have their own host of both short and long term side effects. Children who are aggressive are often medicated, because of safety issues. Children with attention issues are also often medicated, because they’re failing in school. You can see how misdiagnosis is not a road you want to go down with your child! Sometimes medications are needed and helpful, but should always be minimized.
Contrary to popular belief, these dysregulating effects are much more potent with interactive screen-time, or the kind inherent to activities like gaming, internet use, texting, social media, iPad use, and so on. As such, even so-called “educational” screen-time causes overstimulation, which is a major reason why so many kids are having problems; parents mistakenly believe that educational video games and apps are harmless. And once the nervous system is “revved up,” that state tends to self-perpetuate. Thus, simply moderating screen use often fails.
You can see that there are a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding screen-time. The confusion occurs because various powerful industries have “skin in the game” and constantly reinforce these false beliefs, so we must educate ourselves. To do so, we must look at not just the research (in part because a lot of the research is produced by the industries themselves), but at what we know about how the brain works and what it needs to be healthy, what it needs to develop properly.
Over the past decade, I’ve prescribed the Reset Program–a strict and extended “electronic fast”–for more than 500 children, teens, and young adults who’d failed to respond to conventional treatment alone. Offered in my free email course and now in much greater detail here in this book, you’ll learn the science behind of how electronics use causes the nervous system to malfunction, how that malfunction translates into different symptoms in different children, and why the Reset yields such powerful benefits in terms of mood, focus, behavior, and sleep. The book provides dozens of case studies and is packed with advice about support, school-related screen-time, protective measures, and house rules during and after the fast.
Whether your child has ADHD, autism, bipolar disorder, learning difficulties, or no diagnosis at all but is struggling for seemingly no reason, this program can help your child get back on track.
Benefits of the Reset Program:
Resynchronizes the body clock
Normalizes hormones, including stress hormones, growth hormone, and melatonin (the sleep signal)
Redirects blood flow from primitive to more developed areas of the brain (e.g. the frontal lobe)
Enhances deep, restorative sleep
Rebalances brain chemistry, including dopamine
Reduces electrical ‘”excitability” of brain cells
Relieves overstimulated reward (addiction) and sensory pathways
Symptom and functional benefits:
Strengthens mood regulation and stress tolerance
Improves executive function (focus, organization, following directions)
Establishes baseline for screentime tolerability
Increases capacity for eye contact, reciprocal conversation, and empathy
Allows other treatments to work as they should
Clarifies diagnosis for mental, physical, behavioral, and learning issues
Decreases overall stress, arguing and constant negotiating in the home
These are just some of the benefits. Click the video below to hear more about the impact of screen-time:
Ready to buy or want to read inside the book? Click on your favorite retailer below:
Too Much Tech in the Classroom
Did you know that light-at-night from using the computer for homework is bad for kids’ health? That it disrupts the body clock and is associated with depression and even suicidality? That WiFi may disrupt the blood-brain barrier in children with vulnerabilities–particularly those with autism? That introducing computers into schools is associated with lower reading and math scores?
What’s more, research suggests that taking notes on paper is superior to laptop notetaking in terms of recall and exam performance, that children take longer to learn something from a screen, and that reading from screens impairs literacy development, comprehension, speed, and “deep reading” (linking material to what’s already known). Combine this with the fact that screen-time fractures attention, depletes mental reserves, and is often associated with brain-draining media multi-tasking and less movement, and the argument for restricting screens for children and teens becomes quite robust. These are but a few of the concerns stemming from the growing trend of screen-based learning and homework.
Although Reset Your Child’s Brain contains an entire chapter on issues related to school, I want to provide readers with printable Fact Sheets, templates for accommodations request, and research summaries for particular issues (e.g. screen-time and attention). This content is still being created, so please sign up for updates. I also welcome suggestions and feedback for what worked when requesting such accomodations… and what didn’t!