Why limiting screens is not the issue. The real danger is…

KNUTSFORD, UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 29: In this photograph illustration a ten-year-old boy uses an Apple Ipad tablet computer on November 29, 2011 in Knutsford, United Kingdom. Tablet computers have become the most wanted Christmas present for children between the ages of 6-11 years. Many parents are having to share their tablet computers with their children as software companies release hundredes of educational and fun applications each month. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

As a family we have decided to break from screens this summer.   Disclaimer: I don’t believe screens are the enemy.  They are not “bad”, nor am I encouraging the avoidance of them.  In fact, the way I handle screens with my boys is to be able to manage the vast freedom they require.  We cannot guard our children forever against the waves of information and sometimes sketchy material they will come across with one click of a button.  It has always been my desire to teach my son’s how to navigate through this, encouraging the value of guarding their heart above all else to be the filter in which they decide what is permissible and what should be avoided.  This is no easy task.  It would be much easier to allow children to watch and play whatever they want or take screens away all together than to teach them how to manage their freedom.  It’s all hands on deck that takes time and dedication on the part of the parent.

Why are we taking a break?  Limiting screen time is NOT the issue.  Here are the issues:

With the debut of the iPhone and iPad in the last eight years, there hasn’t been substantial research about how increased screens have effected young minds.  The good news is that research is starting to arise.  The bad news is that it’s not looking good and our job as parents helping our children navigate just got harder.   I always say to my boys that I will not limit their screen time until I see a need for limitation.  When I ask for them to get off and they argue, that’s when I have a problem with it.  When the suggestion of bike rides and walks together become “lame”, that sends a red flag.  When friends come over and all the kids come to us parents with sullen faces and proclamations of, “We’re BORED without video games”, it’s clear screens have become an issue.  In the last year these very issues have increased in our home, therefore the need to wind down, reset, and get back to reality.

Our children have become overstimulated and unable to process the delay of gratification because of screens.  The problem with video games, multi-tasking, and constant iPad use is that this type of activity releases dopamine (the feel good hormone) in the mind.  When you’re used to the high arousal state screens constantly provide, it’s hard to see something like nature as fascinating.  The dopamine needs to be fed, and at higher levels each time.  Video game creators are constantly leveling up video game stimulation by creating visuals that are faster and more complex, increasing the intensity in rewards, which then increases the adrenaline experienced.  How can a bike ride compete?  It’s pale in comparison.

Research has started to show how screen use impacts the central nervous system.  It puts the body into a state of constant arousal that is followed by a crash.  Does your child experience mood swings? Concentration problems?  Limited interests outside of wanting to stay in front of the computer?  Other side effects of overuse of screens are; depression, inability to handle frustration, poor sportsmanship, unable to handle emotion, social immaturity, trouble sleeping, and keeping eye contact.  This is what coming down from “dope” (dopamine overload) looks like.  Dopamine demands: MORE.  It becomes an addiction to arousal.  Does that sound like children today?  Curiosity dies replaced with a dependancy on screens to escape the nemesis “boredom”.  Sometimes the loss of screens can cause anxiety.  Screens to many children have become a form of self medication.  I know this became true for my oldest son.

Screen time overkill (much like what it’s like around my home in the middle of Canadian winter) puts a child in a state of chronic stress due to the part of the brain that is activated in active screen time.  Screens bypass the prefrontal cortex, where empathy and creativity is formed, and utilize the fight or flight part of the brain.  Using this part of the brain continuously puts our body in a state of chronic stress.  No wonder students are more stressed out and anxious than ever.  They never get a breather. Chronic stress leads to disregulation – the ability to modulate responses appropriate for the surroundings present.  Ever seen a child who is locked in defensive mode?  It’s survival mode, trained by constantly living in the fight or flight part of the brain.  This then increases the cortisol hormone which impacts blood sugar levels.  Children with attachment to screens often crave sweets as well.  This type of stress affects a child’s ability to sort new facts and retain new information.  You could accurately say it increases the appearance of what looks like ADHD, and if they have ADHD, like my boys do, it only makes it worse.

When my oldest started to not want to leave the house due to missing out on his Mindcraft or Growtopia game I knew we needed a change.  When I realized that my five year old had been handed over to screens for the year we were dealing with our oldest son’s depression and anxiety issues, he experienced a change for the worse.  We observed much of the effects I listed above in him.  It’s humbling to look at the the negative patterns that have been created by my permissiveness.  But there is also hope because we as parents have the power to create boundaries and paths to resilience for our children that can help them manage the world of screens.

At this point, a reset is needed. The goal of a screen – free summer is to give my boys nervous system a break and hopefully see some of the negative attachments and behaviours disappear.  My husband and I are also looking forward to this reset from screens ourselves.  Make no mistake, adults are effected as well.  I plan to document the results as well as the feedback from my children on this journey this summer.  I will be sure to update you in the fall.

In the meantime, be sure to read the blog that preceded this one, as I feel it addresses something far greater than screens in terms of what our children need today.




One Response to Why limiting screens is not the issue. The real danger is…
  1. KarenNo Gravatar Reply

    Thank you Connie, I’m struggling they diagnosed my son a long time ago with ADHD and ODD and he has now failed one Class in grade 10 now two in grade 11. He doesn’t live with me and I find it really hard since he ran away from his Dads to his Dad’s mothers house. I have said it was ok to go off of the concerta he was losing weight and not hungry he felt it made him sick and they forced him to take it anyway. He was very angry before his mood has improved but the rebel has gotten worse he is in north Vancouver but comes for the summer I’m always looking for things do do but as you say he’s just not interested. I am going to try very hard to limit the tv and the phone now that I know it’s a bit more of a challenge at this age but I do want us both to improve .you are great parents!

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