Screen Time: What We Know And What To Do About It

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Sometimes as a professional, I get to attend a training that change my thoughts on parenting. I had one such shift last Friday, listening to Dr. Lisa Elliot speak at the WATCH Wellness Workshop. She was presenting on social media and video games and their effect on our brains. Like all of us, I knew limited screen time was important but I believed it was mainly due to the replacement effects of screens. One on one, face to face interactions are key to developing strong relationships and relationship skills. Active physical lives are key to brain and body health. Good sleep is key to memory, learning, and physical health. Screen time definitely effects these activities but in my mind, healthy screen habits were a time management issue.

What Screen Time Does To The Brain

Then, Dr Elliott presented a summary of research on how screen time [social media and video game use and addiction], effects the brain.

Dr. Elliott summarized one study, Lin, Zhou, Lei et al,  showed ‘through neuro-imaging how internet addiction results in structural and functional changes in brain regions associated with  emotional processing, executive functioning, attention, decisionmaking and cognitive control.’ The study also found similarities in brain abnormalities between children with Internet Addiction Disorder [a disorder under consideration for the next DSM update] and those

  • Exposed to addictive substances like alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and ketamine and
  • Addicted to alcohol, heroin, and cocaine and
  • Who abuse cocaine, methamphetamine and are dependent on alcohol.

I won’t go into all the information in this study or the presentation. Suffice it to say, the similarities in brain abnormalities were changes in the structure, function, and chemical composition of the brain. The effects of these changes can be social, cognitive, and emotional. Plasticity in the brain allows it to regain function. However, the dead white and grey matter of the brain cannot regrow. You can see the slides of the presentation here.

Parents and Screen Time

Here is where I got hope. Dr. David Huffman, at the WATCH Wellness workshop, gave a great low down on some practical solutions, but I went looking for more. The American Academy of Pediatricians has some guidance and a wonderful tool to help families plan their media intake. The family media use plan has ideas for using media appropriately and allows each family to create a contract and habits surrounding media to lessen the negatives that are associated with high media usage. Here are some last thoughts to help guide you in responding to this information:

  • How do my kids see me using media? Do I spend hours a night playing games [even games like chess or solitaire or Words With Friends]? Do I prioritize physical activity, good sleep habits, and face to face connecting, or am I modelling overuse of media?
  • How much screen time do my kids get at school? What is allowed during ‘down time’ during lunch, before and after school? If our time is spent in educational activities that look and feel like games, we may be learning. But we may also be setting the stage for overuse of media or even internet addiction disorder.
  • How often are incidental, out of the ordinary uses of media occurring? We may set the 2 hour a day recreational screen time use limit, but if there are daily times when we break the habit [standing in line, going to the grocery story, waiting in an office], are we really as limited in our intake as we think?

Next Step

Christy Graham, LPC Supervisor Registered Play Therapist Supervisor

Ok, I hope you are not feeling as overwhelmed as I did. Presenting concerns, linking to the helpful sites, and leaving you with my last thoughts, should help you plan your next steps. Need a consultation to talk about the barriers you have to implementing the media plan you chose? Call me. I’m a professional but I’m also a mom with 3 kids. Together, we can figure out what works for you and your kids. Call 940-222-8703 ext 700 or email me.

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