I have long been a proponent of kicking electronic devices out of the classroom, and I just found more evidence that interactive screen time (Internet surfing, social media use, texting, etc.) contributes to physical changes such as smaller brain size and cognitive malfunction. There are studies in respected medical journals that affirm those findings: they state that excessive screen time (or even just “regular” screen exposure) impairs brain structure and neurological function, with much of the damage occurring in the brain’s frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is where massive changes occur from puberty to young adulthood, and it “determines success in every area of life–from a sense of well-being to academic/career success to relationship skills.” (Psychology Today)
A study by Lin, Zhou, Lei, et al., summarizes it this way: “Taken together, [studies show] Internet addiction is associated with structural and functional changes in brain regions involving emotional processing, executive attention, decision making, and cognitive control.” Brain scan research findings include grey matter atrophy, compromised white matter integrity, reduced cortical thickness, impaired cognitive functioning, and cravings and impaired dopamine function. In other words, electronic device addiction is really bad for you, but especially so for those with young, developing brains. As a result, children are suffering from sensory overload, lack of restorative sleep, and a hyper-aroused nervous system: what is called electronic screen syndrome.
So, screen time is making kids moody, crazy and lazy, and it’s changing the physical structure of their brains. What else is new? I see the effects every day in the teens I work with. I see the fractured attention spans, the apathy, the poor focus, and the often explosive and aggressive behavior. I see it in the lack of respect, both for their peers and for authority. I see it as they walk along in the hallways with their heads buried in their phones. It would be funny if it weren’t so serious.
What can be done to mitigate the effects of screen addiction? Another study I found states that all young people can benefit from a tech fast (from gaming, smartphones, laptops, iPads). This means no interactive screen time for a solid three to four weeks. Refraining from tech use can help to restore sleep patterns, enhance mood and increase relaxation, contribute to better focus, and improve relations in school/work, home life, and social interactions. Reconnecting with nature and green spaces can also lead to increased physical activity, perhaps helping reduce the high amount of obesity running rampant across the country.
The problem, as I see it, is getting parents on board with the idea of eliminating technology for any period of time. They are often the worst offenders in texting their children during class, leading to the assertion, “Well, I had to respond, it’s my mom!” Bollocks. Parents shouldn’t be contacting their children during the school day; if it’s an emergency, call the front office to inform the student between classes, just like the good ol’ days. (It seems the parents need the break from technology as much as their kids do.) But if parents can be made to see the light, giving kids a sustained break from technology can lead to many rewards.