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Screen time may have a more negative impact on children's mental health than adults realize. Image ©Dollarphoto.com/ulianna19970

6 Ways Screen Time Is Hurting Your Child

More and more children seem to be suffering from mental health issues including an inability to focus, angry outbursts and problems sleeping. According to Dr. Victoria L. Dunckley, screen time may be one of the contributing culprits.

Dunckley believes children are impacted by the use of electronics much more than parents realize—especially interactive activities like gaming, social media use and texting—that tend to contribute to hyperarousal and compulsive use.

In her 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, she lists six ways screen time is causing mental and behavioral problems in children and teens.

1. The use of electronics can throw off the body’s clock by suppressing melatonin and contributing to high arousal, making it more difficult to get to sleep.

2. Children can become “hooked” on the feel-good chemical that is released while they are engaged on electronics. Unfortunately the frequent release of dopamine, which registers the same as cocaine use on a brain scan, lessens a child’s mental sensitivity and requires an increase of activity to get the same hit.

3. The light from screens, especially light-at-night, has been shown to increase depression.

4. Children can experience chronic and acute stress that leads to irritability as well as changes in hormones and brain chemistry. The brain’s mood regulation abilities can also be altered by hyperarousal and addiction.

5. The high amounts of visual and cognitive input from screen time can also deplete mental reserves and contribute to a lack of focus and concentration.

6. Large amounts of time spent on electronic devices means children have fewer opportunities to play outside which can lower stress, reduce aggressive behavior, improve attention and increase creativity.

To combat these negative effects, Dunckley suggests parents institute an electronic fast by eliminating all screen time for several weeks to allow a child’s nervous system to reset. Although difficult to initiate, the fast may help reduce the need for medication in some cases and make other non-medicinal treatments more effective while contributing to better sleep, social interactions and physical activity.