Look around you - whether it be home, work place, a plane trip, train trip, restaurant or at school, everywhere you look you see screens. By screens I mean computers, phones, interactive white boards, iPads, laptops or iwatches.
This article is on electronic screen syndrome (ESS). Now you may think this only relates to the teenagers hooked on gaming, however it could relate to many age groups.
I am going to jump right in and list the symptoms and if you think you or your family members fit this picture then maybe it is worth having less ‘screen time’ and more screen fasts. ESS is becoming more epidemic than you think and definitely affects one’s health. For some it can be a serious health problem.
Symptoms of Electronic Screen Syndrome:
Revved up much of the time.
Meltdowns over minor frustrations.
Full blown rages.
Increasingly oppositional, defiant, or disorganized.
Irrational if told to stop playing video games or to get off a computer or phone.
Pupils are dilated after using electronics.
Hard time making eye contact in general.
Attached to screens of all kinds like a ‘moth to a flame’.
Not as happy as should be, or not enjoying activities as he or she used to.
Not keeping friends.
Interests are narrowing to revolve around screens.
If school/uni age- grades dropping, academic performance dropping.
Professionals suggesting titles like ADHD, anxiety disorder, bipolar and yet no family history.
Pre-existing conditions like ADHD or autism getting worse.
Wired and yet tired.
Unmotivated and poor attention to detail.
Stressed with few identifiable stressors.
Services like counselling and psychology not helping.
Argumentative over screens (time limits, content, activities, devices) on a regular basis.
Practitioners suggesting mental health issues.
Lying about screen use and content.
Preference to socializing online more than face to face.
Family members avoid setting screen time limits because they fear the reaction.
Family members avoid spending time with you because they predict it could be negative.
ESS- is marked by high levels of arousal and an inability to regulate emotions and stress.
Symptoms vary and can mimic virtually any psychiatric or learning disorder, and many neurological disorders.
Classically you see irritable mood, poor focus, disorganisation, frustration, problematic behaviour, argumentativeness and poor eye contact. It feeds into your dopamine receptors.
Depression and anxiety is common.
What can you do about it?
Initially the best thing to do is an electronic fast.
At the clinic, I may suggest people do an alcohol-free zone; this is similar but with a screen free period of time. Like with alcohol, a period of three 3 weeks off screens is ideal too. With alcohol, it is suggested to do Feb fast, dry July and October sober. I thought very much about this with my children and the hardest thing is that aside from screens socially there is a key screen use in schooling and the workforce. Maybe with students, it could be more suitable in school holidays. Try printing out any school holiday homework before the screen fast starts. Holidays without screens could be good for everyone in a family.
On returning to screens -limits should be set and carried through. This can be tough to start and yet really worthwhile in the long run. Be consistent, mean what you say and carry through the plan.
Education is critical and continually educating and reminding family members of the negative effects overuse of screens can have on happiness and health. Some personalities will be impacted more than others, especially if they have addictive personalities.
1. Keep electronics out of bedrooms – TV, Phones, Computers and clock radios and electric blankets.
2.Turn Wi-Fi off every night at a reasonable hour.
3. Talk to kids about the importance of eye contact, socializing in person.
4. Leave phones in bags at restaurants and parties.
5. Be aware of the manipulation certain games and apps have on us and how they are designed to lock us in.
6. Do not use the games and social media that rule your time. Teach the children about this. I talked to my kids about what apps they have and use and why they like them. When I talked about this with my son he believes with one game it is the levels that tempt him. Then with one social media app it is the streaks. Before you know it- it is so easy to be manipulated into using these things more with very little self- control.
7. Educate your office, your friends, your kids and your children’s school about this.
8. Maybe you can encourage your local school to become more progressive in terms of electronic health.
9. Ban screens for 2 hours before bed.
10. Making sure children and people are up early and exercising so they are not sleeping in and upsetting their circadian rhythm.
11. Incorporate more non-screen activities back into life. If we are doing these activities for instance we do not have to be on screens:
Camping – great activity to do to completely fast from screens
Scooters or skateboards
Statistics say one in three teenage girls has anxiety, one in five teenage boys has anxiety – maybe EES is part of the problem. Cutting back helps but if already at the point of ESS it is not enough. Screen exposure has a potent biological affect including over acting of the brains reward pathways, desynchronization of the body clock, sensory overload, release of stress hormones, and electronic excitability. I believe this is bad for everyone yet worse on the developing brain of a child or adolescent.
The hardest thing is that the message in schools is that these devices are part of society now, therefore it is important our kids learn to work with these and learn to control it. I disagree with this, as I believe most children are not old enough and most do not have the maturity or discipline to self-manage screen use. I would love it if the screens were kept at school and homework was on paper till 16 years of age.
Some people have related the use of digital technology to a drug. I do not like to go this far but we do need to learn how to use it wisely, have breaks and know what is healthy use of technology, and what is not.
Just to reinforce the message here - the brain ideally needs a complete break from screens if ESS. If it is not essential to your work - plan the breaks with digital technology. Use screens wisely and teach kids to use them wisely. They are amazing devices used in the right ways. Remember the old-fashioned message: everything in moderation.