Dayspring

The Rise of Screens and Your Brain

By January 12, 2020 No Comments
Kelsey Dill, MA, LMHC
I recently completed an informative training on the rise of anxiety and addiction of screens, social media, and video games. With technology so readily available (and honestly necessary to most day to day activities), I think it’s important to acknowledge effects which might be causing you or your child difficulty. Here are some of my takeaways, and things I thought might be most helpful to others:

 

  • Media and News: The truth is, media is often used by news sources or marketing campaigns to alarm you and trigger your fight or flight anxiety response (and then over and over and over again to fill air time). If our bodies are in a constant state of alarm, it makes it very difficult to relax, cope with stress, recover from illness, concentrate, sleep, etc. This leads to increased anxiety and potentially long term health issues.  Limiting your exposure to news can help to alleviate some of this distress response.
  • Video Games: Did you know that your brain is unable to differentiate between video games and real life? That’s right. If you’re playing a first person shooter (like COD), your brain has activated the “DANGER!” alarm and your fight or flight is activated. Cognitively you may know that you are not in real danger, but your biology does not know it. You may notice that after video games your child has “screen mean” irritability and struggles with eye contact. This is due to hyper arousal of their fight or flight response (Essentially, they’re not meaning to be “bad” or “rude”, their biology has just taken over). Additionally, video game use causes long term problems with ability to follow sequential, multistep directions (“Eric, please turn off the tv, brush your teeth, and go to bed” will be more difficult for your video game brain kiddo). This long term definite damage to their brain is pretty significant and research is unclear if the damage can be reversed. One study using 4 year olds found that only 9 minutes of SpongeBob a day caused changes in inability to follow sequential steps. Yikes!! Video games also have been shown to change your brain: causing an increase in risk taking (without reflection on consequences), sleep issues, and a decrease in gray and white brain matter (AKA: a decrease in executive functioning for school kids).
    Note: This is especially important for parents of neuro-diverse kids with ADHD who struggle with addiction to video games or use them as a way to self soothe. Their “coping skill” is actually causing them even MORE problems. It’s very important to teach alternative ways to cope with big feelings and find non-screen stress relievers!
  • Phones and Homework: Studying with your phone open makes it harder to learn (Sorry kids). Parents, it is really important to help your child learn to study and concentrate without access to their phone. Setting boundaries by saying things like, “You cannot use it while you’re studying, but you can have it after you’re done” can be helpful. Further, anxiety is often heightened in teens due to social media use and FOMO (fear of missing out). Oftentimes the persona people post online does not represent “real life”. This in combination with comparing followers, likes, and possibly negative DMs (direct messages) have the potential to cause teens to feel anxious or depressed. On the flip side however, it can also help teens feel connected with their peers and social support is so important.
I like to think of technology use like any substance (food, wine, etc). As your teens grow up, part of your job as a parent is to educate them on healthy screen use. Too much video games, TV, social media, can have lasting negative effects on all of us. Limiting screen time and encouraging other activities like sports, time in nature, creative endeavors, and reading books can help to balance out and foster healthy brain development. Screens are inherently addictive, so it is important to practice what you preach and work as a community to spread awareness of what healthy screen time looks like across the developmental lifespan.