Thursday, June 7, 2012

What Screentime Does to Our Brains

[Hmm, this looks like my first real post here in over a year and a half...]

I've been reading Kloppenmum, a parenting blog, for a few months now. Today Karyn posted something I want my 10-year-old son to read. (It's pretty hard to limit his screentime, when I'm online all day, working on my book.) I'm trying to think about how to get it down to one page, and maybe how to make it a bit easier to read. What I'm going to post here is a revised version of what she wrote.

[She gave her permission to post this, along with a request that I promote her books. If you like her blog, I imagine you'll like her books: Why People Drive You Crazy: A Fresh Look at Temperament, by Karyn Van Der Zwet ($7.40, due out in July), and  All About Tantrums: Why We Have Them, How to Prevent Them, and What to Do When They Happen (due out by Christmas).]

So read her post first, and then you can check out my version of her work below. My question is, what can I take out? (And what would a bright 10-year-old be stumped on?)

What Screen Time Does to our Brains,
by Karyn Van Der Zwet

The Eye
  • The fovea makes up 1% of the retina. Usually the fovea is meant to receive information on which we are concentrating intensely. The fovea, therefore, tries to send all possible information to the brain it can. 
  • The rest of the retina gives us peripheral vision. Peripheral vision is there to distract the brain, so it doesn’t become over-loaded from all the information the fovea is feeding it; and it is used to ensure we notice anything sneaking up on us. 
  • When we watch the screen, peripheral vision isn’t used at all. 
  • Pictures and words on the screen are made up of pixels. These are small segments of information, which have to keep moving in order to appear solid. The eye keeps having to focus and refocus on the pixellated images. The brain assumes there is some kind of problem with our eyes and keeps trying to make corrections to the information it is receiving, but it can’t ever sort the problem out. This constant correcting process causes our brains stress. 

Brain Reaction
  • Brainwaves are given off at different frequencies, showing what kinds of activities our brains are involved with. The more complex the brainwaves the more our brains are being used, and this is what they crave: we experience this when we are in the zone and children are naturally in this state when involved in old-fashioned, open-ended play. 
  • When we watch the screen our brains give off alpha waves. This usually shows our brain is in a state of deep relaxation, but the huge amounts of alpha waves given off show our brains are shutting down. They are over-whelmed. This is a similar state to that which we can get into if we are being mauled by a tiger – the brain assumes we are in mortal danger. This state is a pleasant place to be, but not where we are meant to be unless we are waiting for healing or death. 
  • When we watch the screen, our brains give off theta waves. Theta waves are usually given off when we are storing information in short-term memory for later processing and they are also released when we are drifting off to sleep. When we watch the screen the abundance of theta waves show there is no conscious thought happening at all. We’re in a state of daze. (Slack jaw and wide eyes.) The brain cannot keep up with the huge amount of data we are expecting it to manage. 
  • The fight/flight part of our brain automatically interprets flickering lights and loud noises as signs of danger. Pixellation is flickering. The constant stimulation of the fight/flight system while we watch the screen makes our brain release the stress hormone cortisol. 

Automatic Replays and Stress reactions
  • There are more psychiatric problems for those of us who live in noisy environments and the noisier the environment the less well children do academically. Electronic and mechanical noises are not the noises our brains were built to deal with. 
  • We cannot turn off the impact of visual stimuli. Our brain constantly replays what it has seen to try to make sense of it. 
  • After 9/11, the more a person had watched re-runs of the events, the more likely they suffered psychologically, regardless of whether they had lost someone or lived close to the sites. 
  • People show the full impact of stress reactions after an event. 

  • Happy brain chemicals are usually released during the brain activities associated with alpha and theta waves. 
  • Any activity we do during which lots of alpha and theta waves are released, we want to do again and again. This is how addiction works. (As a simplistic example, alcoholics usually emit very low rates of alpha and theta waves.)
  • If a person cannot go without the screen for 48 hours, they are probably addicted. 
  • The only way we can know if we are or aren’t addicted to electronic entertainment is to remove it, for 48 hours. If we are addicted we will begin to show the same reaction as anyone going through withdrawal: denial, anger and bargaining are the first three stages. 

The Positive Effects of Less Screen Time (After Withdrawal)
  • Fewer arguments. Less violence, and general nastiness. 
  • Fewer silly noises and baby talk. 
  • Less frenetic running about and other seemingly out of control behaviours. 
  • Better sleep patterns, and no Night Terrors. 
  • Greater oral communication skills and more interesting conversations. 
  • Greater co-operation. Increased ability to play alone and to entertain themselves. Greater calm.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Sue. Looks good! Let me know how you get on. :) Karyn