Wired & Tired: The Bad Moods That Come with Screen Time

Obesity, visual processing disorders, learning difficulties... We all know about the issues that come along with too much screen time.  Yet, sadly “wired and tired” is the new norm when it comes to your kid’s after-school activities. Yes, they spend too much time staring at phones, TVs, tablets, and computers. Yes, it all started out so innocently – just wanting to teach your little one to be a bit tech-savvy – and just totally got out of hand!

Now it’s time to reel it all back in a bit.  The mood disorders now seem to be disrupting home life as well as your child’s education.

All Revved Up and Nowhere to Go

So what’s up with the bad mood, awful temper, and mixed up emotions?  Victoria Dunckley, M.D. describes the problem as children who are “dys-regulated – that is, they have trouble modulating their emotional responses and arousal levels when stressed.” Too much contact with electronic devices causes the physical stress she describes in her book, Re-Set 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.

To make matters worse, kids with electronically-induced mood disorders can be easily misdiagnosed by an eager mental health profession. They may end up labeled, medicated and attending special educational classes, when what would really help is to pull the plug on the devices.  Dr. Dunckley has devised a four-week plan to give a child’s nervous system a complete rest from the overstimulation of electronic devices – think of it as a detox regimen for the over-stimulated kiddo.  Parents can then decide to continue the “no screens” lifestyle or add some screen time back in on a limited basis.

Our Wired Brains

Children’s brains are especially sensitive to electronic stimulation but so are ours in many ways. When we are subjected to the constant nervous system stimulation of lighted screens, we are apt to lose our sensitivity to our kids’ emotions. And our own. When everybody in the family gives up screen time for allotted periods, you may be surprised at the overall change in mood.

The light in a computer or phone screen suppresses the brain’s creation of melatonin, which is only produced in darkness. Melatonin regulates sleep cycles, hormones, and moods. The whole family will be happier with the good sleep and good moods that come with unplugging.

The Guidelines Will Let You Know

Hopefully you and your kids aren’t experiencing extreme physical reactions to electronics, but you may be re-thinking the place they have in your life. Perhaps you’ve read the The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for computer and phone use and have realized you’re way over the limit. They’ve recommended no screen time exposure for kids under 2 years of age, no screens in bedrooms, and less than 2 hours a day of entertainment screen time.  They’re getting enough screen time at school, it seems.

Pediatricians May Ask

Children’s doctors have also been encouraged in this same AAP report to ask two new questions on well-baby visits: “How much time is the child spending with media? Is there a television and/or Internet-connected device in the child’s bedroom?”  It has become a health issue to make sure kids are not overexposed to dangerous levels of electronic stimulation.

Get Them Involved

So what’s a busy, overworked parent to do with all this? You want to keep an eye on screen time, but sure don’t want to get into a discipline nightmare over it. Start a conversation.  When limits need to be set, explain what you know about how screen-time can cause physical problems, and then ask for suggestions. You’re not asking for permission to create limits – you’re asking for their ideas on ways to do it.  And obviously, the entire family should be working together to unplug.

An Added Benefit

Your kids may not know it in the short term, but in the long term they may realize you’ve given them a really valuable experience of self-discipline. They will be able to say to themselves, “Yes, I know this activity is compelling and fun in the moment, but I have the ability to set it aside for something with lasting value.” 

What Will We Do Instead?

Dr. Kenneth Barish, author of Pride and Joy: A Guide to Understanding Your Child’s Emotions and Solving Family Problems suggests, “During these hours, parents should substitute play time for screen time.  Play card games and board games, do puzzles and drawing, building and wrestling.  Most children, despite some perfunctory protest, still prefer interactive play with a parent to watching television or playing video games, with all the benefits for their social and emotional development that ensue.”

Candyland, anyone? No, make that a game of Chinese checkers please and you’re on!

What are your household rules around screen time?

Tags : health   relationships   development   technology   screen time   emotional health   

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