8 Questions to Ask About Technology and Your Child's Brain
- Arlene Pellicane
- 2014 29 Aug
Your child sits on the couch, motionless. His head is bent downward, eyes fixed on the screen. Do you ever wonder, “What is happening in his brain while he plays that video game for the hundredth time this week?” No doubt you’ve seen your child glued to the television or craning his neck to see a video on someone’s phone. Although we may crack jokes about kids losing brain cells, there are reasons for real concern when it comes to brain development, screens, and your child.
Today’s child is surrounded by tablets, flat screen TVs, mobile phones, and computers. These devices are inherently addicting because what can compete with high-definition clarity, constantly changing visuals, and high interactivity? Once a child’s brain is accustomed to the stimulation of technology, it’s hard to go back to building blocks, dolls, reading books or doing homework.
It used to be that children did many things to stimulate different parts of their brains. They played outside, made up games with friends, and helped out with chores. But in our 21st century digital world, screen time is quickly replacing fundamental activities such as interacting with adults and other children, sleeping, exercising, and reading. The more your child interacts with screens, the less experience she has using other parts of her brain. The parts of her brain used for reading, writing, sustained concentration, and being empathetic towards others are neglected. Your screen-driven child might be great with visual motor skills, multi-tasking, or quick decision making, but if he can’t sit through a lesson in class, what’s been lost?
Think about your own brain on screens. You have several windows open on your computer. You quickly scan several headlines, jumping around the page, clicking on what captures your curiosity. Although your phone didn’t buzz, you pick it up to check it for messages. You do this several times an hour. It’s hard to complete one task without checking your email or social media. Simply put, you (and I) are distracted. We’ve trained our brains for breadth, not depth, of information.
As parents, we must help our children learn how to concentrate, even when the classroom lecture is boring or the book chapter is long. The part of the brain used for reading text is different that the part used for video games and watching television. Multiple studies have shown that gray matter atrophies in people who are addicted to gaming or the Internet. The frontal lobe of the brain shrinks which effects executive functions like planning, prioritizing, controlling impulses, and getting things done.
Ask yourself these questions as you consider your child and his developing brain:
Can your child read a lengthy, age-appropriate passage with comprehension?
Can your child sit still and pay attention in school or church?
How are your child’s people skills?
Is he able to produce empathy for a friend?
Can your child read non-verbal facial expressions from other people?
Is your child showing any signs of addiction? (for example, irritation or moodiness when separated from electronics, or neglecting chores or homework because of screen time)
Is your child sleeping well each night?
- Does your child get one hour of exercise each day?
Sleep and exercise are natural ways to fight stress – that’s true for kids and adults. Unfortunately excessive screen time works in the opposite way in the brain. When a child watches a television program that he loves or gets to the next level in a video game, the neurotransmitter dopamine carries a signal of pleasure to the brain. While pleasure in the right amounts is a good thing, in excess it’s detrimental. Your child’s brain can keep seeking that next hit of dopamine which translates into “Please let me play one more game or watch one more show.” When kids overuse technology, the constant stimulation to the brain causes the stress hormone cortisol to rise. Instead of feeling rested after watching TV or playing video games, your child is stressed or feels anxiety.
What’s the good news in all this? It’s never too late to begin good habits that will greatly benefit your child’s brain. Start making healthy adjustments today. Reduce your child’s screen time and exchange that time for activities that will benefit the brain. Things like exercise, reading together, and unplugged family time can work wonders to strengthen your child’s brain.
Based on the book Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World by Dr. Gary Chapman and Arlene Pellicane.
Arlene Pellicane is a speaker and author of Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World and 31 Days to Becoming a Happy Wife. She has been a guest on the Today Show, Family Life Today, The 700 Club and Turning Point with David Jeremiah. Arlene and her husband James live in San Diego with their three children. Visit Arlene’s website at www.ArlenePellicane.com.
Publication date: August 29, 2014