Chronically irritable children are often in a state of abnormally high arousal, and may seem “wired and tired.”
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 irritability and apathy, 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 successfully treating a child requires methodically eliminating all electronics use for several weeks—an “electronics fast”—to allow the nervous system to “reset.”
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. Once the body clock is disrupted, all sorts of other unhealthy reactions occur, such as hormonal imbalances and brain inflammation.
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. 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. 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. Additionally, both hyper arousal and addiction pathways suppress the brain’s frontal lobe, the area where mood regulation actually takes place.
5. Screen time overloads the sensory system, fractures attention, and depletes mental reserves.
Experts say that what’s often behind explosive and aggressive behavior is poor focus. By depleting mental energy with high visual and cognitive input, screen time contributes to low reserves.
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.” 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.
#HouseOfLearning #SonalAhuja #EarlyChildhoodEducation #EarlyChildhood #EarlyYears #EarlyChildhoodEducator #Educator #Parenting #MindfulParenting #ParentingStyle #DigitalEra #Gadgets #Children