Without doubt, we live in a digital age and are all subject to screen time in many formats. There is increasing evidence to suggest that this is causing addiction on a huge scale. The long term implications of this are detrimental to our health and wellbeing. I notice when I am with young people they seem to be in a state of high anxiety, always checking their mobile phones and seeming unable to relax into the moment. Although this is not just a young person’s issue (whilst driving, I have almost knocked over adults who are so engrossed with their mobile phones that they do not look where they are going), the long term impact on our younger generation is potentially very damaging.
The effects of this addiction actually is impacting on the brain – raising dopamine levels and affecting the brain’s frontal cortex in much the same way that cocaine does. In young children this is even more alarming as their brains and sensory systems become overloaded causing impulsivity, mood swings and the inability to pay attention. Transfer this to a classroom situation, and you have children who cannot concentrate and who want instant ‘entertainment’. Often labelled ADD or ADHD, they are the children who find learning difficult and so become disruptive.
Many parents seem to be contributing to this situation by giving their children mobile phones or tablets to keep them quiet and ‘well-behaved’. I have observed this in many situations, the most memorable being in a restaurant where a family of 2 adults and 4 children were sitting waiting for their meals and all were engrossed in their mobile devices! Parents so engrossed in their own devices are emotionally unavailable to their children and unable to recognise that their children need to interact with them to develop as well-rounded human beings.
Evidence also suggests that the blue light from screens used before bed can prevent restful sleep and disrupt circadian rhythms. Many teenagers also sleep with their phones next to their bed – and answer texts and messages well into the night. The blue light emitted from the phones hinder sleep even when the phone is switched off. Sleep deprived children and young people will not perform well in school and may well struggle to interact positively with others.
In addition, screen addiction means that children are not taking part in the same levels of physical activity as they would have done in previous generations. The health outcomes of this are all too well-documented: obesity (and the potential social isolation that can result), diabetes and heart disease.
We need to get children off their screens and get them moving to enable then to develop into happy, well-adjusted and healthy adults. Outdoor play, the opportunity to be creative and positively interact with others can all contribute to remedying the situation. The brain is neuro-plastic and can be rewired to function more effectively at any age, but the younger this process starts the better.
Movement programmes, such as Rhythmic Movement Training International, can also be very effective in helping to rewire the brain and minimise the damage caused by too much screen time. For further information see www.rhythmicmovement.org