by Victoria Dunkley
A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills
by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time
Do you have a child struggling with emotional, learning, sensory, or behavioral issues that are so disruptive you’re pulling your hair out? Does the littlest thing set them off? Does your child seem “wired and tired”–that is, agitated but exhausted at the same time? Are you trying different treatments and strategies but nothing’s working?
What if one simple and free intervention provided dramatic improvement across a broad range symptoms– regardless of diagnosis? Would you be willing to try it for a month, even if it seemed inconvenient or “too hard” at first glance? (Spoiler alert: parents always say the program was much easier than they imagined it to be!)
This is precisely the scenario I present in my new book, Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time. Increasing numbers of children are being diagnosed with psychiatric disorders such as ADHD, Tourette’s, autism, depression and bipolar disorder. Other children have no formal diagnosis, yet seem out of control or stuck in terms of development. At the same time, more and more children are being prescribed “psych meds,” requiring special education, or receiving speech or occupational therapy. Disability benefits for mental and neurological disorders now dwarf every other disability category. What’s going on?
As you may have guessed, I firmly believe all of these trends are linked to the daily barrage of stimulating screen-time on the sensitive nervous system of growing children. But before you let any feelings of doubt or overwhelm deter you, read on. Understanding the scientific rationale first will help you be open to what I propose.
Why Interactive Screen-time Wreaks Havoc on the Nervous System
Because electronic screen media is unnaturally intense in terms of sensory, cognitive, and psychological input–designed to keep the user engaged–it tends to overstimulate nervous system. The brain interprets all this stimulating input as a form of stress. This in turn triggers fight-or-flight reactions and a high state of arousal, making it difficult to wind down and sleep deeply.
Each time a child picks up a screen device, not one but many changes occur in the brain that lead to overstimulation and hyperarousal. Reward pathways are strongly activated which eventually become desensitized. Large amounts of dopamine are released. Blue-toned light (inherent to screens) desynchonizes the body clock and suppresses melatonin, the sleep signal. Vivid colors and rapid changes in movement or page loads overwhelm the visual system. Enormous amounts of information are taken in and processed, draining mental reserves and fracturing attention. Media multi-tasking and interactivity raise arousal and stress levels. Manmade radiation from both the device and from wireless communications perturb brain waves.
Over time, these changes lead to chronic stress, resulting in blood flow shifting from the more developed part of the brain (frontal lobe) to the more primitive parts of the brain. Because the frontal lobe governs emotional regulation, attention, creativity, and social behavior, any of these areas can become impaired. Chronic stress also raises cortisol levels, which complicates frontal lobe functioning even further. High cortisol impairs the hippocampus (needed for memory), disturbs sleep, and eventually causes atrophy (shrinkage) of the brain. (It also causes weight gain and high blood sugar.)
When the changes become significant enough to impact frontal lobe functioning–or in other words how the child feels, thinks, behaves, or socializes–on a day-to-day basis, this is what I call Electronic Screen Syndrome (ESS).
Because of the impact on the frontal lobe and other parts of the brain and body, Electronic Screen Syndrome can mimic or exacerbate virtually any psychiatric disorder. This phenomenon has lead to rampant misdiagnosis, inappropriate use of medication, and misuse of mental health and education resources. Medications, in turn, often have their own host of both short and long term side effects. Children who are aggressive are often medicated, because of safety issues. Children with attention issues are also often medicated, because they’re failing in school. You can see how misdiagnosis is not a road you want to go down with your child! Sometimes medications are needed and helpful, but should always be minimized.
Contrary to popular belief, these dysregulating effects are much more potent with interactive screen-time, or the kind inherent to activities like gaming, internet use, texting, social media, iPad use, and so on. As such, even so-called “educational” screen-time causes overstimulation, which is a major reason why so many kids are having problems; parents mistakenly believe that educational video games and apps are harmless. And once the nervous system is “revved up,” that state tends to self-perpetuate. Thus, simply moderating screen use often fails.
You can see that there are a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding screen-time. The confusion occurs because various powerful industries have “skin in the game” and constantly reinforce these false beliefs, so we must educate ourselves. To do so, we must look at not just the research (in part because a lot of the research is produced by the industries themselves), but at what we know about how the brain works and what it needs to be healthy, what it needs to develop properly.
Over the past decade, I’ve prescribed the Reset Program–a strict and extended “electronic fast”–for more than 500 children, teens, and young adults who’d failed to respond to conventional treatment alone. Offered in my free email course and now in much greater detail here in this book, you’ll learn the science behind of how electronics use causes the nervous system to malfunction, how that malfunction translates into different symptoms in different children, and why the Reset yields such powerful benefits in terms of mood, focus, behavior, and sleep. The book provides dozens of case studies and is packed with advice about support, school-related screen-time, protective measures, and house rules during and after the fast.
Whether your child has ADHD, autism, bipolar disorder, learning difficulties, or no diagnosis at all but is struggling for seemingly no reason, this program can help your child get back on track.