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562 People Prayed
1534 People have read this article

HOW AN ‘ELECTRONICS FAST’ CAN HELP KIDS RESET

Lord, we all need a 'reset'. We need to reset our hearts and minds to Your word and Your will.

Children or teens who are “revved up” and prone to rages or—alternatively—who are depressed and apathetic have become disturbingly commonplace. Chronically irritable children are often in a state of abnormally high arousal, and may seem “wired and tired.” That is, they’re agitated but exhausted. Because chronically high arousal levels impact memory and the ability to relate, these kids are also likely to struggle academically and socially. . .

What’s happening?

Both parents and clinicians may be “barking up the wrong tree.” That is, they’re trying to treat what looks like a textbook case of mental disorder, but failing to rule out and address the most common environmental cause of such symptoms—everyday use of electronics. Time and again, I’ve realized that regardless of whether there exists any “true” underlying diagnoses, successfully treating a child with mood dysregulation today requires methodically eliminating all electronics use for several weeks—an “electronics fast”—to allow the nervous system to “reset.”

If done correctly, this intervention can produce deeper sleep, a brighter and more even mood, better focus and organization, and an increase in physical activity. The ability to tolerate stress improves, so meltdowns diminish in both frequency and severity. The child begins to enjoy the things they used to, is more drawn to nature, and imaginary or creative play returns. In teens and young adults, an increase in self-directed behavior is observed—the exact opposite of apathy and hopelessness.

It’s a beautiful thing. . .

But why is the electronic fast intervention so effective? Because it reverses much of the physiological dysfunction produced by daily screen time.

Children’s brains are much more sensitive to electronics use than most of us realize. In fact, contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t take much electronic stimulation to throw a sensitive and still-developing brain off track. Also, many parents mistakenly believe that interactive screen-time—Internet or social media use, texting, emailing, and gaming—isn’t harmful, especially compared to passive screen time like watching TV. In fact, interactive screen time is more likely to cause sleep, mood, and cognitive issues, because it’s more likely to cause hyperarousal and compulsive use.

Here’s a look at six physiological mechanisms that explain electronics’ tendency to produce mood disturbance:

1. Screen time disrupts sleep and desynchronizes the body clock.

Because light from screen devices mimics daytime, it suppresses melatonin, a sleep signal released by darkness. Just minutes of screen stimulation can delay melatonin release by several hours and desynchronize the body clock. Once the body clock is disrupted, all sorts of other unhealthy reactions occur, such as hormone imbalance and brain inflammation. Plus, high arousal doesn’t permit deep sleep, and deep sleep is how we heal.

2. Screen time desensitizes the brain’s reward system

Many children are “hooked” on electronics, and in fact gaming releases so much dopamine—the “feel-good” chemical—that on a brain scan it looks the same as cocaine use. But when reward pathways are overused, they become less sensitive, and more and more stimulation is needed to experience pleasure. Meanwhile, dopamine is also critical for focus and motivation, so needless to say, even small changes in dopamine sensitivity can wreak havoc on how well a child feels and functions.

3. Screen time produces “light-at-night.”

Light-at-night from electronics has been linked to depression and even suicide risk in numerous studies. In fact, animal studies show that exposure to screen-based light before or during sleep causes depression, even when the animal isn’t looking at the screen. Sometimes parents are reluctant to restrict electronics use in a child’s bedroom because they worry the child will enter a state of despair—but in fact removing light-at-night is protective.

4. Screen time induces stress reactions.

Both acute stress (fight-or-flight) and chronic stress produce changes in brain chemistry and hormones that can increase irritability. Indeed, cortisol, the chronic stress hormone, seems to be both a cause and an effect of depression—creating a vicious cycle. Additionally, both hyperarousal and addiction pathways suppress the brain’s frontal lobe, the area where mood regulation actually takes place.

5. Screen time overloads the sensory systemfractures attention, and depletes mental reserves. 

Experts say that what’s often behind explosive and aggressive behavior is poor focusWhen attention suffers, so does the ability to process one’s internal and external environment, so little demands become big ones. By depleting mental energy with high visual and cognitive input, screen time contributes to low reserves. One way to temporarily “boost” depleted reserves is to become angry, so meltdowns actually become a coping mechanism.

6. Screen-time reduces physical activity levels and exposure to “green time.”

Research shows that time outdoors, especially interacting with nature, can restore attention, lower stress, and reduce aggression. Thus, time spent with electronics reduces exposure to natural mood enhancers.

In today’s world, it may seem crazy to restrict electronics so drastically. But when kids are struggling, we’re not doing them any favors by leaving electronics in place and hoping they can wind down by using electronics in “moderation.” It just doesn’t work. In contrast, by allowing the nervous system to return to a more natural state with a strict fast, we can take the first step in helping a child become calmer, stronger, and happier.

(Excerpt from Psychology Today. Article by Victoria L. Dunckley M.D.)

562 People Prayed
1534 People have read this article

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6 Replies to “HOW AN ‘ELECTRONICS FAST’ CAN HELP KIDS RESET”

  1. Thank you for this article. I agree and have seen all of these affects in my grandchildren’s lives. One of them is in a special needs class and has been asked to leave one school this year because of raging meltdowns. The presence of screens in his life began with tv at birth, on all the time, literally. He is allowed to stay on his nintendo or phone for extended periods of time. His world becomes very small as a result. Things which used to interest him such as science, archery, riding bikes, swimming no longer interest him and when he is at my house, he is bored because I don’t allow use of his devices.

    2
  2. This is an excellent article for all parents. I might have missed this in the article, but I think it is really important to cut the child off all electronics at least one hour before bedtime. My son is on the spectrum and this article seemed to describe all of his reactions with video games. In order to deter the temper tantrums we had most of these rules in place and it’s helps him a lot.

    1. Thank you so much for this post. My great grandson lives with us and has been having so much trouble in school and not sleeping well, and I see him in your post. I never knew these things could cause so much of what is going on with him. I have been giving him melatonin and it seems to help. Now I will be trying taking away his gamming equipment and phone for a while. I wasn’t crazy about him having these things anyway, but was listening to others instead of going by my own instincts. I was shocked by how much this described my child. Thank God for leading me to your article and having you post it.

  3. What a good article but it is hard to have kids fast from screens when the schools are now using computers for their classes. Father, help us as parents and society to see the truth if this article.

    6
    1. This is so true, but we have to be strong. I am a 73 year old great grandmother raising my great grandson. He is a perfect fit to this article. It really opened my eyes. If this is what it takes than he’s worth whatever it takes. He’s not going to like it, but I love him and I will do whatever it takes.

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