His words echo the thoughts of world-leading neurotherapist, Dr Mari Swingle, who visted Bullsbrook to present her thoughts on rethinking screen time at a special event hosted by Nature Play WA and Meerilinga.
Dr Mari Swingle is a leading neurotherapist from Canada
A large group of concerned parents, educators and members of the wider community gathered at Bullsbrook Library to hear about Dr Mari’s 25 years of work in education and behavioural psychology, and her real concerns, based on clinical evidence and multiple research projects, that excessive use of technology is having a serious negative health impact on young brains. The Canadian expert shared some worrying statistics:
2014 - the number of mobile devices globally surpassed the number of people
2017 - the average 5yo will have 1500 photos of them published online before the age of 5
55% - the number of Australian kids who play outside daily
She believes that screens are the number one barrier to outdoor play and excessive screen use is a major contributor to a lack of wellness both culturally and personally. She believes that kids need face to face, heart to heart and unbound play. Parents and educators are struggling to know what to do because the use of technology is such a new and ever-changing problem - they cannot reflect with older members of their community because they didn’t have to cope with it.
Dr Mari revealed some of the obscure labels being bandied around including “Nature Deficit Disorder” and “Vitamin N (Nature) Deficiency”, and while she did not agree with their use, she noted that the medicalisation of these problems could help to raise their profile to the benefit of children’s wellbeing.
She talked about the global issues and noted that screen addiction was declared a national health issue in China and South Korea in 2008. In Northern Europe and Scandinavia, children seem to be somewhat protected by more cultural acceptance of nature-centric parenting.
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She explained how technology affects young brains as gaming and all screens hijack biology. Game designers use addictive design and the multibillion dollar technology companies employ a team of psychologists to manipulate the content of games to encourage maximum engagement/addiction. Children are not fulfilled by the technology so they gorge on it but are never truly satisfied.
Research shows that when kids are exposed to screens too much and too young their brains develop differently and it can be hard to rewire them. “Itech” can hijack healthy child development if used too much, too early (under 3 years), when face to face interaction and touch are the gateways which the brain should be using to learn to regulate emotions properly. A child exposed to excessive technology can develop an inability to understand facial expressions which leads to disproportionate tantrums and anxiety.
Dr Mari Swingle's book, i-Minds, looks at the scientific evidence behind the damaging effects of too much screen time
Today’s children now need more arousal to be engaged and cannot cope with boredom because their brains are programmed differently by constant screen exposure, which leads to an epidemic of hyper-arousal. They need a phone to feel better - screens act as an analgesic. Researchers are also seeing an emergence of autistic-type symptoms in young children with high levels of screen exposure but who do not have autism.
In older children and adults, responding to constant phone alerts, beeps and dings can become like collective trauma and leads to anxiety. Being constantly distracted by phones and thus ignoring our kids and giving them the silent treatment is seen by children as a form of punishment. We owe it to our kids to give them our full attention.
6 Simple tips to manage screen time
1. Invest time in understanding parental control tools which allow you to limit the amount of time kids are on screens
2. Make rules about screen usage and keep to them
3. If you must use a screen, TV is better than smaller devices due to the pacing of the cycles
4. No screens for at least 60 minutes before bed as they affect sleep cycles
5. Screens are less damaging in the morning due to our circadian rhythms
6. Watch screens with your child so that you understand what they are watching and can adjust accordingly
Nature Play WA is a not-for-profit association established to increase the time Western Australian children spend in unstructured play outdoors and in nature.
Dr Mari Swingle has written a book grounded in scientific evidence about screen time and technology called i-Minds.