Part one in the Screen Tips series Screen Tips for Tots is the first of a research referenced series on the impact of screen technologies on child body and brain development. Written by Cris Rowan, pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, international speaker and author of the book “Virtual Child”, Screen Tips will provide parents, educators and […]
Brain smooshed, body sick and lumpy, heart fast, eyes stuck open, fingers red and roughy, lap tired and sore….
When asked what she feels like when she is watching TV, 4 year old Bella reported “When I’m watching TV, my brain feels smooshed, and my body feels sick and lumpy. TV makes my heart go really fast. When I go outside and play on the swing, Mother Nature makes the sun come out, and then I lose the lumpy feeling out of my body…out of my ears, legs and hands”. When asked about the iPad, Bella reports “My food in my tummy goes lumpy and my heart goes really fast when I’m doing the iPad, and a slug goes in my throat. My fingers go red and roughy when I use the iPad, like when I’m in the bathtub. When I put the iPad on my lap, my lap gets tired and sore because the iPad gets hot. The back of my neck feels scrapey and itchy when I use my iPad. When I do the iPad, my eyes get stuck open for the whole night and then I get tired the next day”. When asked why she doesn’t stop using the iPad when she knows it isn’t good for her, Bella reported “I like the iPad because it has games and shows to watch. It’s too fun, I can’t stop. Family game night is better because it doesn’t have any sore or wrinkley feelings”. This 4 year old child uses no more than one hour per day of technology, well within the American Academy of Pediatrics and Canadian Pediatric Society recommended usage guidelines. What do these symptoms mean, and should we be concerned?
In my workshops for parents, I frequently state that effective technology management requires a careful balancing of technology use with healthy activity, and that by just upping healthy activity components, technology use will decrease. When determining technology restrictions for children, I encourage parents to consider two parameters: content and duration. Content should be prosocial and slow paced, while avoiding antisocial and fast paced content. Duration should be as per expert pediatric society guidelines. I emphasize that passive TV is far less harmful than active screens, such as computer, tablets, and phones. Active screens promote hyperarousal, described by Bella as fast heart, stuck open eyes, and sick/lumpy body. That said, Bella is a typical functioning 4 year old who is describing significant physical symptoms from short term episodes of TV and iPad use. Reviewing the detrimental effects of technology on children is warranted, if we are to understand the implications of using these devices with very young children. The results of technology overuse are children who are sedentary, isolated, neglected, and overstimulated.
When a child is handed a device they sit; take it away and they get up and move. Consequently, ANY technology use is detrimental to healthy child development. Sedentary lifestyle is cited as the primary causal factor in rising incidence and epidemic levels of child obesity and diabetes, in both the US and Canada, which has reached a record 1 in 4 children (Tremblay M 2011). When children don’t move, their vestibular system, located in the brain, is not stimulated, resulting in weak postural muscles and poor motor coordination, what Bella termed lumpy. Postural control and motor coordination are both required for attainment of not only early developmental milestones, but as well for printing and reading literacy upon school entry. Sedentary children also lack stimulation to their proprioceptive system, resulting in dysregulation of arousal states needed for paying attention and learning, which Bella describes as a smooshy brain. Presently 1 in 3 children in Canada enter school with delayed development from sedentary lifestyles (UBC HELP EDI Mapping 2009/13). Interesting to note, is that Bella attributes nature and sunshine with a reversal in symptoms…”When Mother Nature makes the sun come out, l lose the lumpy feeling from my body”.
Bella describes that “We can’t play the iPad together because you can only play it by yourself, and whenever I try to play with it, my brother or sister take it away from me”. Bella is the youngest of three children, and in an effort to get the children to play together, the family has only one iPad. The obvious struggle that ensues has driven many families to give everyone a device, yet the result is isolation. Human beings are pack animals, and are not meant to survive outside of the pack. When deprived of parental and sibling attention, children become obsessed and abnormally attached to their devices, resulting in early technology addiction. 1 in 11 children are presently addicted to technology (Gentile D 2009). We have never in the history of humankind, witnessed children and whole families with additions. The costs to health, education and social governments will be astronomical.
As child injury rates and child mental illness escalates, parental neglect of their children becomes more and more apparent. 1 in 7 children in Canada have a diagnosed mental illness, with many of these children prescribed dangerous psychotropic medication (Waddel C 2007). Parents attached to devices are detaching from children at an alarming rate, causing a surge in problematic child behaviors being readily diagnosed as autism, adhd, depression, anxiety, obsessive/compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, oppositional conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder…to name only a few. This trend to diagnose a detached child with a mental illness, points the finger at the individual child as the problem, not the system that created it. This continued pattern of parents, teachers, and clinicians handing children iPads, or placing babies in front of TV’s, should be citied as neglect. Creating One Nation Under Therapy fixes nothing, and results in more problems and expenses than can possibly be imagined down the road.
The brain neurotransmitter dopamine is released when children use screens, causing a euphoric state of hyperarousal that numbs pain to such an extent, that video games are used as an anesthetic for burn victims. Also released during screen use is adrenalin from the adrenal glands, and with prolonged use of screens, cortisol. These three chemicals cause significant stress to the body, and result in what Bella describes as feeling “sick, smooched brain, neck scrapey/itchy, and fast heart” as well as contribute to Bella saying she “can’t stop”, an element of early addiction. After using the iPad, Bella describes the sensation of her eyes being stuck open for the whole night, causing a tired feeling the next day. Further concerns regarding overstimulation in children while using video games, is depicted in a video interview by Dr. Walsh (at 4:30 min) which demonstrates the hyperarousing aspects of video games, and the consequent hypertensive effects on heart rate and blood pressure in a 22 year old male, causing his blood pressure to climb from 115/60 to 190/144 in under 30 minutes. These test results beg the question, what happens to children’s cardiovascular systems with prolonged use of sedentary yet overstimulating technologies? Mounting research now demonstrates that the radiation emitted from wifi technology is causing changes to human DNA, resulting in infertility (Avadando 2012), cancer (Hardell 2013), and hyperactivity (Aldad 2012).
The ways in which we are raising and educating children with technology are not sustainable, as Bella so eloquently describes. We need to listen to what our children are telling us, and help them to limit technology use by setting clear guidelines and rules. Children are our future, but there is no future in virtual reality.
This article was written by Cris Rowan, pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, speaker and author of Virtual Child – The terrifying truth about what technology is doing to children. Cris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-888-8zonein (869-6346).