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Screen Your Habits | How to Balance Your Child’s Screen-time By Lisa Grassa

Children today spend more time interacting with screens and less time playing outside interacting with the physical world. The reality is that children are living in a very different world than previous generations. Parents and educators are feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility associated with managing screen time. The big question is: How is early technology use affecting children? Dr. Victoria Dunckley’s book 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 is a must read book on this topic. It helps parents and educators understand the impact of screen time on development and well being.

Understand how screens affect the development of young brains.

Dr. Dunckley states that screen time affects young brains more severely than adults. The developing brain is designed to respond to stimulating visual input and movement. This naturally draws children to screens, but that does not mean that they should be in front of them. Often, the fast-paced nature, intense colour and sudden or loud noises can lead to sensory and cognitive overload for young children. This causes stress on a child’s brain and visual development. Screens also access the brain in a physiological way as they are designed to activate neural reward pathways that release feel-good chemicals. Interactive screens, such as games that require a child to respond to a stimuli, tap into a child’s need for instant gratification and responsiveness. Therefore screens are sending unnatural and overstimulating messages to the nervous system, reducing blood flow to the brain and inducing a state of hyper-arousal. This state of hyper-arousal activates a fight or flight response which can leave a child feeling stressed, anxious and unregulated.

Here are some tips for creating healthy habits in a screen-driven world:

  • Make lots of time for play because young children learn best through the exploration of their physical world.
  • Be deliberate about how you model technology use in your home. Demonstrate mindfulness by putting away your phone during meals or creating screen-free zones and times.
  • TV screens are a more passive technology and considered healthier for the brain than iPads or iPhones. Create firm limits on screen use.
  • Avoid using screen time as a reward as this places an unhealthy importance on technology.
  • Beware of the after screen time meltdown as children experience a sudden drop of the feel-good chemical dopamine. This can look like irritability, mood swings, inattention and aggression. Monitor your child’s mood and behaviours after screen use. If your child is exhibiting these symptoms, consider Dr. Dunckley’s “electronic fast”.
  • Limit screen time before bed as the artificial light from a screen impact’s a child’s natural biorhythms resulting in the suppression of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics long-standing recommendation is no screen time before the age of 2 but current research is suggesting that this guideline should be pushed to the age of 5 or older.

LISA GRASSA, OCT is the Junior Kindergarten teacher at The Mabin School. In her work with young children, Lisa is helping to bridge the gap between current research and best practice. mabin.com

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