“A kid’s brain on tech looks like a brain on drugs.”
This statement comes from Glow Kids by Dr. Nicholas Kardaras. This book was recommended by social media influencer Collin Kartchner at a recent social media awareness meeting. Before I read this book, I had no idea just how damaging video games can be to our kids’ brains. Even educational games. And not just video games – social media, hypertexting, violent or overstimulating TV shows. Electronics can have the same effect on our brains as cocaine or heroin. And if not addressed, the effects can last a lifetime.
Using screens puts our kids in constant fight-or-flight mode and decreases the activity in the areas of the frontal lobe responsible for controlling emotions and behavior. The exact opposite of what Positive Discipline tools do for the brain!
There are also many, many studies that show that violent video games cause more aggressive behavior. Dr. Kardaras gives a very compelling argument for staying away from all violent video games, dispelling the opposing side’s claim that video gaming doesn’t increase aggression.
Now, please don’t beat yourself up if you have kids who are addicted to screens. The book states that about 10% of people naturally have addictive personalities. It’s like the alcoholic who just needs one drink to become addicted. Also, if you’re like me and listened to the wrong sources, now is the time to become aware of the truth about the dangers of screens and video games. Don’t blame yourself or your child! We’re all just trying to do our best.
If you feel that changes in your child’s screen time need to be made, don’t be afraid to make those changes. Remember, make an agreement together, if possible. You’ll have less rebellion and resentment, and more cooperation if your child is on board with it. Teaching your kids the facts definitely helps them get on board.
Every family, every child is unique, so a screen time agreement that works well for one might not be a good fit for another. Listen to your child and your heart to know what is right for your child. And don’t be afraid to tweak things every day or every week.
Here are some recommendations from Glow Kids:
- Wait until your kids are older (age 12 was one recommendation) before letting them use smartphones, tablets, or computers.
- Replace screen time with family and outdoor activities. Some experts believe the epidemic of mental health issues is caused by reduced time in nature and increased time with tech.
- Teach your kids the difference between digital vegetables (i.e. using the computer for homework or email) and digital candy (i.e. video games, social media).
If tech use at school is affecting your child, don’t be afraid to request that your child be screen-free at school. There’s a letter at the end of Glow Kids that you can copy and give to your child’s teachers. Also, you may find that approaching the school administration can be effective. I emailed the junior high principal about my concerns with kids using devices during PE and throughout the school day, referencing the scientific studies from Glow Kids. Soon after, there was an all-day, school-wide event focused on teaching kids about the effect of screens on the brain. Don’t be afraid to speak out and voice your concerns!
What did I do after reading Glow Kids? First of all, I realized this was an issue for one of our older kids. We had been following the screen time recommendations given directly to our child by our wonderful pediatrician, but apparently our child is part of the 10% with a natural addictive tendency. I had a long discussion with my husband about what we should do, we prayed hard about it, and we decided to make the tough decision to put our addicted child on a 3-week screens fast (except for family TV watching) and uninstall Fortnite and Minecraft permanently. Thankfully, after I told our child how damaging screens are to the brain, just like drugs, and explained other facts from the book, we were able to come to an agreement about the screens fast. You can read the research and facts from Glow Kids on Dr. Kardaras’ website.
For my younger kids: I decided to eliminate iPad, tablet, and computer use for my elementary-aged kids, and encourage more outdoor free play.
For myself: I downloaded a free Android app called YourHour. It tracks the time I spend on each app, how long I spend on my phone total, how many times I unlock my phone, etc. It also rates your level of dependency on your device. A great way to monitor yourself and cut down on your own screen time. I’m hoping to convince my teens to use it as well. As they get older, they need to be the ones starting to manage themselves, without as many parental restrictions but with our guidance and monitoring.
Parental Controls: A simple way to let your agreement be the boss is to use your internet company’s parental control tools. Xfinity has options for each user, including bedtime limits, a pause feature, and restrictions on YouTube content. I also recently bought the premium version of Qustodio. I’ve tried many different parental control apps and programs, including Microsoft Family Safety, Funamo, Norton, Screen Time Labs, and Surfie. There’s no perfect program, but Qustodio has the most complete and versatile program that will monitor your child’s phone, tablet, and computer use.
Make a screens agreement together: It’s important that you and your child come to an agreement together instead of just secretly or dictatorially implementing restrictions. Otherwise they will likely find ways around any monitoring or restrictions you put into place. Spending special time with your child beforehand and teaching about the effects of screen time will help them be more willing to come to an agreement with you.
If you think your child needs a screens fast (the book also calls it a digital detox) to reset their brain, the book gives you more specifics. It also refers to a book by Dr. Victoria Dunckley, 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. But, before you do the screens fast, please get the advice of a mental health professional.
You might not need to go that drastic. Listen to your heart and spirit and do what you feel is best for your child, always with unconditional love and mutual respect.
Your child’s brain is at stake.
Update on the 3-week screens fast: Our child went through withdrawal symptoms even before we completely cut out screens. Make sure you get the approval and support of a mental health professional before implementing a screens fast. Thankfully we had a caring therapist who supported us in this decision, and it was such a blessing to have her help at the exact time that we needed it. She encouraged us to continue with the fast. I will spare you the details for the sake of my child’s privacy, but it did get easier. And then it got worse. At the end of the 3 week fast, we experienced what Dr. Dunckley warns in her book can happen – neurological issues were uncovered and magnified that had been hidden by the screen addiction. So although the screens fast didn’t fix all our problems, it did help us to know that we needed to seek specialized professional help. Now our child is back on screens (within limits that we’ve agreed on) but because we cut out the addictive games, the screens aren’t nearly as damaging or addictive as they used to be.
If you think your child could be suffering from any kind of neurological, psychological, or developmental issue, don’t hesitate to discuss your concerns with your child’s pediatrician. They can provide advice, medical testing, and referrals. In our case, receiving an evaluation from a developmental pediatrician will be an important step in diagnosis and treatment.