“Neuroimaging research shows excessive screen time damages the brain,” writes Victoria L. Dunckley M.D. author of the appropriately titled article, “Gray Matters: Too Much Screen Time Damages the Brain.”
Most parents I know agree that kids are spending far too much time on screens. However, sometimes those same parents laugh about it, chalking it up to “this generation” and the skills needed in the world for technology. I’m the mother of an 11 year-old who struggles to regulate my son’s screen time, even though I try. I see the decline in his desire to be creative, to read, and to be physically active, although he returns to these activities naturally when he cannot get access to a screen.
When I read articles about brain research and the affects of screen time, there is a common theme showing the negative impact on mood regulation and interpersonal skills. As I look at my son’s generation, I see the signs. I notice when kids get together now they want to sit on tablets next to each other playing online games. They’re easily bored and don’t seem to know what to do together without screen time. They’re losing their ability to play and interact socially. I have seen this with my son and his friends, in my work as a teacher, and child/family therapist. When I see this happening, I will take the time to guide kids toward high interest games and activities that peak their interest to anchor them back to these socially engaging and interactive experiences. In previous years many of these same kids would have selected games to play for hours, built things, or created artwork together before they all had tablets and smart phone access all the time.
Many kids are sleep-deprived due to screen time and their parents don’t realize it. Being on screens too late at night is disrupting their sleep cycle. Some kids will wake up extra early knowing that they have uninterrupted access to a screen before their parents get up. Sleep deprivation affects mood, attention and the ability to learn. It is inarguable that screens are addictive. Even as an adult, I find scrolling and reading articles becomes a constant habit. My son and I have negotiated shutting down all screens and having time together. It’s an important must. I think we all know we need to give limits to screen time. We cannot rely on our children to moderate themselves. It’s a real challenge for parents who try to regulate their child’s usage when the culture of disconnection becomes supported by the community around us consistently. More of us have to join in and be the guardians of their development.
More time on screens means less time for the brain to develop the sophistication of emotional connection and cognitive development. Too much screen time disrupts the ability to process emotional, cognitive, and sensory information from the day. Think about the time we used to sit on the couch, or on the train and just think or be still. Now this time is being taken up with in-taking more information.
I saw a child in a waiting room at a doctor’s office the other day, watching a hand-held movie while being guided by her parent through the hallway. There are so many things she’s not learning just walking through the hall by herself. If we don’t have time to process information, and then our sleep is disrupted, we can develop side effects including anxiety, depression, and a sense of disconnection. The preoccupation with screen time, tablets, video games, and the social media culture is interrupting young people developing the full capacity of their brains, and their talents, as well as, eroding family time, and the ability to develop meaningful bonds with others.
According to the research cited in the article; Gray Matters: Too Much Screen Time Damages the Brain, there is an atrophy of gray matter happening in our children’s brains which affects their impulses, and their capacity to develop empathy and compassion for others. There is a loss of white matter in the brain which affects both cognitive and emotional functioning. Too much screen time affects the frontal lobe of the brain, which undergoes changes during puberty, interfering with academic and relationship skills. With all of the recent events that we see in our society, WE KNOW WE ARE IN URGENT TIMES. It’s time to stop abdicating our responsibility to what we call “these times” of technology. We have to take advantage of technology, not have technology take advantage of us. We need to find a way to get back to the value of ordinary experiences holding the key to a healthy and extraordinary life.