Kurt and Leslie have two children, ages nine and eleven. Their good friends have children the same age who have televisions in their rooms. As a result, Kurt and Leslie’s kids were constantly asking if they could have televisions too. But the answer was always no. Kurt and Leslie believed that too much digital stimulation was bad for the brain.
Many experts would agree. When children overuse technology, the constant stimulation of the brain causes the stress hormone cortisol to rise. Too much cortisol can inhibit a child from feeling calm and comforted.
Dr. Archibald , who is Senior Professor of Psychology and Dean Emeritus at Fuller Theological Seminary, says, “A part of cortisol’s function is to block the tranquility receptors so as to make you more anxious and prepare you to deal with an emergency. Only, it isn’t a real emergency but instead a game-induced emergency. This loss of tranquility can lead to more serious anxiety disorders.”
If your child is spending hours playing video games, texting, or engaging in social media, cortisol is flooding her brain. He or she is trading tranquility for digital stress. Many times we see the screen simply as a form of entertainment. But it’s much more than that.
Maybe it’s not a child who is experiencing stress because of excessive screen time. Maybe it’s you. It’s hard to break away from the ding of a new text or dozens of emails waiting for a response. Consider these four things that can help a child experience more peace of mind (they can help you too):
Downtime. After a good workout, physical muscles need rest to recover. The same is true for the brain. It’s not that the brain gets tired, but it needs time in between tasks to process and consolidate the information it is learning. This free “brain time” for kids is often eaten up by screen time. Your child’s brain needs to be idle from time to time.
Restricted electronic use. Without enforced limits, a child can easily spend hours going from screen to screen. One television episode turns into two. A short video game break turns into one hour of playing. Christy is a fourth grade teacher and estimates her students spend at least half of their free time after school playing video games. She wishes that her students had screen time limits at home, and more reading and physical activities instead.
Physical exercise. Exercise affects your child’s growing brain in many positive ways. It increases heart rate (which pumps more oxygen to the brain), reduces cortisol, and burns off adrenaline. Studies show that kids who exercise regularly get higher grades, have better concentration, and sleep well. Physical activity releases brain chemicals that are natural stress fighters.
Sleep. Certain stages of sleep are needed to cement what your child learned during the day. That learning doesn’t take place if your child is sleep deprived. If your child is sleepy the following day, she is unable to focus and pay attention to new material. It’s a vicious cycle, but thankfully it can be remedied with a few sleep strategies. Set a consistent bedtime for your child, and make her room dark, quiet, and comfortable. Don’t have any screens in the bedroom because staring at a bright screen before bedtime keeps kids awake. Turn off the television, computer, or tablet one hour before bedtime to avoid stimulating adrenaline and preventing sleep. Remember also the secret weapon of exercise – the more vigorous the activity, the bigger the sleep benefits.
If you haven’t been practicing these habits in your home, it’s not too late to begin. Consider this comment from a father of two young adults:
“I would not have allowed much of what I allowed if I could do it over again with my kids. Looking back, the advertisements and programs they watched were not good role models. We could have spent more time together as a family instead.”
While your children are under your roof, you can guide their screen time habits to lessen stress and promote more family interaction. Remember what it says in Isaiah, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you” (NIV, Isaiah 26:3).
Adapted from Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World by Arlene Pellicane and Gary Chapman.
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