Mental Wealth

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Screen Free Week is Just around the Corner!

Get ready for screen-free week (it needn't be painful!)

 

Screen Free Activities Flyer CCFC
Activities Flyer Courtesy of ScreenFree.org
Since I often prescribe an electronic fast for children who are revved up and dysregulated, I love the idea of national Screen-Free Week, organized yearly by Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood (CCFC).

One of the important messages CCFC wishes to impart is that when it comes to the challenge of screen-time management, it’s more important to focus on total screen-time than screen-time content.  Many parents feel “educational” screen-time is okay or believe it may offer the child some advantage, when in fact there is a solid consensus amongst the medical and research community that even educational screen-time creates risk for numerous mental and physical problems, particularly with early exposure. Hence, when it comes to screen-time, “It’s the medium, not the message” should be your mantra.

One of the challenges that parents experience is figuring out what kind of activities they can realistically (and quickly) put into place to replace screen activities. Children will naturally begin to engage in physical and create forms of play once their brains are liberated from screen devices,  so much of the worry is unnecessary. Nevertheless, having some ideas in mind can help reduce parental anxiety about going screen-free, so here is CCFC’s flyer  you can print out with some suggested activities:

 A couple easy-to-do items I’d add to this list that you can do with your child or children are: 1) Play handball. Both boys and girls like to play it, and you can play it almost anywhere, and 2) Play board games, including checkers, chess or Scrabble.  For any of these items, if you don’t know how to play, ask your child to teach you.

Screen-Free Week is a Family Endeavor
Going screen-free yourself (especially while your children are at home during the day and evening) for the week will greatly improve chances of success plus magnify the benefits.  Children frequently complain that mom and dad are “always on their phones” (or iPads, laptops, tablets, etc…), so partaking in this endeavor with them shows your child that you’re validating their experience—instead of denying it by saying, “I have to do x,y,z for work.” It also promotes good role modeling and healthy parent-child interactions, which are known to be adversely affected by screen use.

Brain Benefits of Screen Liberation
Why do I prescribe electronic fasts for nearly every patient I see? Because of the mileage you get. Screen-time—even in moderate amounts—can trigger mood, cognitive, and behavioral issues via altered brain chemistry, sleep, stress hormones, and blood flow.  Screen elimination produces benefits that are qualitatively and quantitatively superior to mere moderation.  If you participate in Screen-Free Week you and your family can look forward to:

  • Improved sleep—due to reduced stress hormones, increased melatonin release, less exposure to unnaturally bright screen light, and more natural levels of stimulation.
  • Better regulated mood—due to more balanced brain chemistry, including dopamine and serotonin, more restorative sleep, synchronization of circadian rhythms and improved blood flow to the frontal lobe (where emotional regulation occurs)
  • More compliant and organized behavior—due to lowered fight-or-flight response and improved blood flow to the frontal lobe (which also governs focus, task completion, and impulse control).

Screen-free benefits and the mechanisms that produce them act synergistically, creating a virtuous cycle in lieu of the vicious cycle screens can produce.  Part of the beauty of Screen-Free Week is to give you a taste of what your child is like in a more natural environment. The longer the electronic fast, and the stricter you are about screen management, the stronger these effects will be. It’s worth the effort!

For more info regarding the benefits of an electronic fast, see www.drdunckley.com/videogames/ and my post on Electronic Screen Syndrome.

 

Victoria L. Dunckley, M.D., is a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist specializing in treating children with complex diagnoses and/or treatment-resistant conditions.

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