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Screen Time Syndrome: Brain Images Explain Why Kids Are Moody, Impulsive & Can't Pay Attention, limiting online time, Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, addiction expert, child counselor, educational games, iPad, electronic Lego, Legos, creative play, find rare minerals, Minecraft club, digital game, gaming, behavior, temper tantrums, outbursts, refusing to do chores, tablets, smartphone, shortcut tool, images, spoonfeeding, lazy learning, dumbing down, mental effort, developing brain, low-tech parent, Steve Jobs, Silicon Valley, no-tech Montessoru schools, Waldorf schools, Xboxes, brain imaging research, science, frontal cortex, impulse control, executive functioning, cocaine, dopamine levels, technology, feel-good neurotransmitter, addiction, sex, Dr. Victoria L. Dunckley, exposure, sensory overload, lack of sleep, hyper-aroused nervous system, electronic screen syndrome, impulsive, moody, can't pay attention, rewire, train, delayed gratification, bored time, creativity, set limits, monotonous work, early years, work ethic, parenting, Victoria Prooday, strengthen brain, 

Screen time, in its multiple forms, will be part of your children’s lives at some point. But parents must ask themselves how early and to what extent?


Some parents think they’re giving their child an educational edge like Susan who bought her 6-year-old son John an iPad when he was in first grade. “She thought, ‘Why not let him get a jump on things?’ John’s school had begun using the devices with younger and younger grades – and his technology teacher had raved about their educational benefits.

Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, one of the country’s foremost addiction experts who counseled Susan and her son John, writes, “She started giving John screen time to play different educational games on his iPad. Soon, he discovered Minecraft, which a teacher assured was “just like electronic Lego.” She remembered how much fun she had as a child building Legos. At first, Susan was pleased. John seemed engaged in creative play. She did notice that the game wasn’t quite like the Legos she remembered – after all, she didn’t have to kill animals and find rare minerals to survive and get to the next level with her old game. But the school even had a Minecraft club, so how bad could it be?”

“John became more and more focused on his digital game, losing interest in baseball and reading while refusing to do his chores. As his behavior continued to deteriorate, Susan tried to take the game away but John threw temper tantrums. His outbursts were so severe that she gave in, still rationalizing to herself over and over again that “it’s educational.”

But it’s even worse than we think.


There’s a line; cross it and parents may actually unintentionally be doing significantly more harm than good.

“Tablets are the ultimate shortcut tools: Unlike a mother reading a story to a child, for example, a smartphone-told story spoon-feeds images, words, and pictures all at once to a young reader. Rather than having to take the time to process a mother’s voice into words, visualize complete pictures and exert the mental effort to follow a story line, kids who follow stories on their smartphones get lazy. The device does the thinking for them, and as a result, their own cognitive muscles remain weak.” ~Liraz Margalit Ph.D

Digest the information below on screen time, even though it might feel uncomfortable, and arm yourself with the truth about the potential damage screen time is capable of imparting – particularly in a young, still-developing brain.

“There’s a reason Steve Jobs was a conscientiously low-tech parent. Silicon Valley tech executives and engineers enroll their kids in no-tech Montessori or Waldorf schools. Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page went to no-tech Montessori Schools, as did Amazon creator Jeff Bezos and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.” (source)


We now know that smartphones, iPads, and Xboxes are a form of digital drug. Recent brain imaging research is showing that they affect the brain’s frontal cortex – which controls executive functioning, including impulse control – in exactly the same way that cocaine does. Technology is so hyper-arousing that it raises dopamine levels — the feel-good neurotransmitter most involved in the addiction dynamic – as much as sex.

White matter changes – internet addiction

But what about kids who aren’t “addicted” per se?

Let’s be clear: Even in children with “regular” exposure, we should be aware that screen time is creating subtle damage considering the “average” child clocks in more than seven hours a day (Rideout 2010).

As a doctor, Dunckley observes that many of the children she sees suffer from sensory overload, lack of restorative sleep, and a hyper-aroused nervous system, regardless of diagnosis—what she calls electronic screen syndrome. These children are impulsive, moody, and can’t pay attention – much like the damage seen in these scans above. (source)


Unfortunately, screen time has replaced the outdoor time and become a kind of babysitter. Children used to play outside, where, in unstructured natural environments, they learned and practiced their social skills.

And like the story of Susan and her son John, we need to get our children back to playing with Legos and toys that don’t think for them.

We can rewire and retrain the brain by being intentional. It’s so much easier to start young.

Victoria Prooday, OT writes:

1. Train delayed gratification.

  • Make them wait! It is ok to have “I am bored“ time – this is the first step to creativity
  • Gradually increase the waiting time between “I want” and “I get”
  • Avoid technology use in cars and restaurants, and instead teach them waiting while talking and playing games

2. Don’t be afraid to set the limits. Kids need limits to grow happy and healthy.

  • Make a schedule for meal times, sleep times, technology time
  • Think of what is GOOD for them, not what they WANT/DON’T WANT. They are going to thank you for that later on in life.
  • Limit constant snacking. Parenting is a hard job.

3. Teach your child to do monotonous work from early years as it is the foundation for future “workability.”

  • Folding laundry, tidying up toys, hanging clothes, unpacking groceries, setting the table, making lunch, unpacking their lunch box, making their bed (source)

4. Have fun with your children.

  • Read aloud, wrestle with your kids, make a Mexican or Italian meal together, do a family game night or a treasure hunt in the house or yard. Push the table aside and dance with them, laugh about what they did when they were really little, take walks and look at the clouds! (source)

“Kids will change when parents change their perspective on parenting.  Help your children succeed in life by training and strengthening their brain sooner rather than later!”   ~ Victoria Prooday

Remember, parenting is about progress, not about perfection. You are reading about this because you are a parent who wants to do all you can to help and advance your child in the right direction.

You can do it!


Why our children are more entitled than generations before?

Study after study proves what we have guessed…

It’s the scary truth that our children face.   As a teacher and play therapist, I’ve heard from so many parents that their kids are acting entitled and even lonely & sad.

Last week, a friend (and fellow teacher) printed out a section of an article that she had read, looking at the reasons for why kids are bored & easily frustrated, making them less patient– an article written by Victoria Prooday: Occupational Therapist, speaker, blogger & founder a multidisciplinary clinic for children with challenges on her fantastic blog, YourOT.

Victoria writes:  “What good are we doing them by giving them what they WANT when we know that it is not GOOD for them? Without proper nutrition and a good night’s sleep, our kids come to school irritable, anxious, and inattentive.  In addition, we send them the wrong message.   They learn they can do what they want and not do what they don’t want. The concept of “need to do” is absent. Unfortunately, in order to achieve our goals in our lives, we have to do what’s necessary, which may not always be what we want to do. “ – Victoria Prooday. (Just FYI: I’ve talked to Victoria on the phone & she is amazing, to say the least!)

My friend and I started talking about the “me generation” we both agreed that screentime and the thought of “mine, mine, mine” have a lot to do with it.

To top it off, I read this article on about a little boy on his video game, during a family gathering:

“After being on his handheld electronic game for an hour, a perfect storm is brewing. His brain and psyche become overstimulated and excited — on fire! His nervous system shifts into high gear and settles there while he attempts to master different situations, strategizing, surviving, and defending his turf. His heart rate increases and his blood pressure rises — he’s ready to do battle.  The screen virtually locks his eyes into position and sends signal after signal: “It’s bright daylight out, nowhere near time for bed!” – he’s ready to fight or escape!”

The story goes on to say that his little sister came over and put her hand on the game. He hadn’t noticed her walking towards him because he was so involved in the game. Due to his elevated feelings, he screams at her and runs to his room. His mother follows him and tells him to get off of the electronics and get ready for bed, which makes him feel frustrated, as well as physically and emotionally angry.   He was ripped out of his “fun” virtual world and put into a “boring” real world.   Kids just can’t adjust so quickly.

It’s happening all the time, but we can help.

Let them be bored.

“Families [overly] centered on children create anxious, exhausted parents and demanding, entitled children. We parents today are too quick to sacrifice our lives for our kids. Most of us have created child-centered families, where our children hold priority over our time, energy and attention.” ~ American Journal of Preventive Medicine

Boy sitting at the bottom of the stairs using a smartphone.