This article written by Christine Schoenwald was originally published on YourTango.
Is it time for a digital detox for your kid?
The average child spends 7 hours a day looking at a screen, such as a video game, computer, cell phone, or television. That's a huge amount of time, especially when the recommended amount is 2 hours a day.
In an article in Psychology Today, Dr. Victoria L. Dunckley — author of the book Reset Your Child's Brain — talks about how too much screen time can make a child or teen become both wired and tired. The child becomes agitated, and at the same time exhausted because of their screen time addiction, and they suffer academically, socially, and physically.
Too much screen time can affect your child in these 5 ways:
- They can't sleep at night. Two hours of iPad use at maximum brightness can suppress meatonin, which is a key hormone in the body's clock. Once the body's clock is off, all kinds of other unhealthy reactions can occur: hormone imbalance and brain inflammation. Being in a highly aroused state prevents deep sleep, and deep sleep helps us to heal.
- They need more stimulation to experience pleasure. Gaming releases a lot of feel-good chemicals and the reward pathways become less sensitive. Like with any addiction, the electronic addict gets to the point where they're spending more time trying to chase that high.
- They can develop attention problems. Kids who are addicted to their screens often can't focus on other activities like going outside or to the movies. They're biding their time until they can get back to their devices.
- They experience mood swings. If you express concern that they're spending too much time looking at stuff on their phone, they can become defensive. If you try to take away their phone or limit their time, they'll become belligerent and hostile.
- They can develop obesity. If a child is constantly sitting and barely moving, they're not being physically active and aren't burning any calories. They may also be making quick unhealthy food choices.
Sometimes the symptoms of spending too much time in front of the screen can be misinterpreted as depression, bipolar disorder, or ADHD, but treatments for those mental health diagnoses (such as medication, therapy and other treatments) won't work very well.
In order to help break the addiction to electronic devices and screen time, Dr. Dunckley advices an electronic fast for several weeks so the nervous system of the child can reset. If several weeks seems impossible, London-based adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Richard Graham suggests 72 hours.
These kinds of electronic interventions can get the sleep cycle back on track, improve the child's mood, give them better focus and organization, and will undoubtedly lead to increased physical activity. Without their tablet, gaming system, or phone, the child will go back to enjoying the things they used to enjoy, like imaginary and creative playing, nature, and will become more outgoing and happier.
Once the brain is reset, the parent can slowly re-introduce electronic screen time back into the child's life, testing to see how much usage the child can handle without backsliding into the unhealthy behavior.
Parents can say what adults have been saying to their kids for generations: "Now, go outside and play."