Child Therapists and Play Therapist of Denver
Many parents are confused and concerned about screen time. We all grew up with our family telling us to sit back from the television screen, and limit time on the computer, especially video games. We have been told, screen time in its various forms, is not good for us. But what is the reasoning and how can we understand that it truly is not beneficial for ourselves or our children.
Brace yourself, because here comes the science.
We tried to keep it brief, and if you can get through it all it will make sense as to how it actually affects your child.
First ,let us talk about the BLUE SCREEN:
The blue screen fools our brain to change our circadian rhythm. The blue light creates false daylight.
When using screens we disrupt the neuro chemicals of our brain that include Gaba, Serotonin, and Melatonin. The Gaba allows us to have a full night’s rest. The Serotonin allows for memory uptake. The Melatonin controls how quickly we fall asleep. Natural blue light, morning light, is alerting, due to the shorter wavelength. When looking at the blue light of a screen, the alerting nature is constant, disrupting our sleep patterns and our ability to relax. An increase in screen time will decrease a child’s quality of sleep creating sleep deprivation and poor self-regulation.
Now let’s talk about how screen time and video games can disrupt our brain chemistry. Our brain requires a balance of Dopamine, Acetylcholine, Norepinephrine, and Serotonin.
This balance is disrupted by activities such as playing video games. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that is released during a fight response and is also released when playing video games. When people experience a reinforcing stimulus, dopamine pathways in the brain are activated, which strengthens the pleasure reward response, which is why video games can become addicting. When the video game is turned off, the dopamine pathways close which can cause a withdrawal- like reaction in people. Children with ADHD are typically prescribed stimulant medications that increase the concentration of dopamine in the synaptic cleft of the brain. Dopamine, in combination with norepinephrine (released during a flight response), increases one’s ability to pay attention. However, when these pathways are over stimulated by video games, especially for a prolonged period of time, it becomes harder for other activities to open these pathways, thus decreasing a child’s ability to focus in other daily occupations. Therefore, video games are an attributing factor in the current issue of children being over diagnosed with ADHD. Further, video games can release an adrenaline response since they can cause fear, stress, and excitement. This adrenaline response, also known as the release of epinephrine, increases heart rate, dilates the pupils, increases blood pressure, causes perspiration, tenses muscles, and slows down the GI system. These reactions are also what occur in the body during a fight or flight response. The body can maintain a chronic adrenaline response when video games are played often because the body becomes used to suddenly experiencing several flight or fight emotions. In real life scenarios, when a child is in a state of fight or flight, they run or use their bodies to fight which causes the body to release endorphins, which helps in maintaining homeostasis. When playing video games, the characters in the game are running or fighting, not the child, so these endorphins are not released. Therefore, epinephrine is built up and causes a chemical imbalance.
Alright! We made it through! So now, here’s the basic explanation to understand how it affects our kids’ minds and bodies:
We all have an inherent rhythm that tells the body it’s day and tells the body it’s night. Computer screens are blue and the specific color, the wavelength, fools our minds to not tell our internal clocks that it’s night time or daytime, so our internal clock keeps running and doesn’t give us the alarm that tells our mind to turn off and rest. So, the mind just keeps on going. Even though our body is exhausted, so too is our mind, but it’s telling itself otherwise. The result is the same as sleep deprivation, and our children will act out accordingly, which we see as the inability to regulate their activity, thoughts and behaviors.
Turn off the screen, or at least limit the time to less than 30 minutes a day, and let your kids reset their natural, internal clocks. It will do wonders for their ability to get through the day in a healthy way.
Likewise, is the whole chemical connection to the body’s response to the activity and emotion that a video game stimulates. How we respond to anything is really the body’s response to any assortment of chemicals released in response to a particular stimulus, whether the intent is excitability or relaxation. In the case of video games, it’s typically excitation, and just like too much of anything, our body’s reaction to the stimulation dulls with time, resulting in our need for more to feel the same sense of excitement. Sounds a lot like addiction, right? That’s exactly what it is, and though it may seem a harmless game, the more our kids play, the less they are able to get the intended, normal response, so they play more to feel the same thing, or anything at all. Unfortunately, if they stop the game, the body and mind don’t like to be without it and the child can actually show signs that mimic withdrawal.
Further, they have become so dysregulated in their normal chemical reactions to a stimulus, the normal response is blunted or altered, and, just like the screen color, results in the inability to regulate normal thoughts, emotions, activity and behavior.
So, what’s a parent to do?
Minimize or significantly cut the time exposed to the computer screen and the video games, which are designed to keep kids playing, and you will start to see improved ability to manage a normal day physically and emotionally.
Now the big question…
Is there a recommended time to allow our bodies to re-regulate? Studies have shown that 2 weeks of minimal to no exposure to screen time and/or video games allows the body and mind to re-balance and reset. This in conjunction with increased physical activity, and other mental stimuli like family game nights, can be a great step for you and your child.
So, now you know.
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