Dozens of studies point to the potential physiological and psychological harm that electronic screens can cause to our kids’ growing brains. “Parents often mistakenly believe that non-violent video games are not harmful, and that educational games give children an edge,” says psychiatrist Victoria Dunckley, author of Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time. In her book, Dunckley analyzes the research and explains the harm-inducing mechanisms that disrupt hormones and cause irritability.
She argues that screens can be linked to depression, anxiety, isolation, and stunted social development. Excessive use can cause permanent deleterious brain changes. Plus, both intense and blue light are implicated in retinal damage and melatonin suppression, which delays the ability to fall asleep and shortens the REM cycle needed for memory formation.
The result can be kids who exhibit mood, attention, and cognition problems. Even 30 minutes a day can cause symptoms. Many children are mistakenly diagnosed with—and then medicated for—ADHD, bipolar, ODD, and OCD, warns Dunckley, when eliminating screen time could reduce or even resolve symptoms.
The news isn’t good, but don’t freak out. This is an opportunity to review your household screen policies. Fortunately, the industry is taking notice, adding settings to reduce blue light and creating “flicker-free” screens. Here’s what else you can do. Reduce blue light and brightness to a minimum, and never use electronics before bed. Try an “electronics fast,” Dunckley’s comprehensive, tested method detailed in Reset. Reduce the total amount of time for all devices combined. Choose print: Studies show that recall and comprehension are lessened with e-readers. If your school promotes electronics, ask for printed materials and books whenever practical. Finally, be intentional with e-usage, choosing it when there’s value added—not as default. Choose an e-free day for your family each week.
Don’t be afraid to buck the trend. You may just notice a child who sleeps better, performs better at school, engages in more natural and creative play, has more stable moods, and is happier.