Teens and screens: the science you need to know

Teen girl on bed, looking at cell phone with headphones on while doing homeworkOver the last few decades, devices have become such a large part of our lives and one thing we can be sure of – they’re not going away.  64% of Ontario youth “spend three hours or more per day of screen time in their free time”.

There’s a lot of talk in the media about screen-time changing our children’s brains and affecting their health. So is there really any basis to screen-time being harmful?  I decided to investigate the science behind what happens in our kids’ brains and bodies when they try to meet the high demands of their devices.

Here’s what I found out:

  • Shifting focus = shifting blood flow: Most teens multitask with at least one device while doing their homework. Most kids feel they need to be “on” all the time and think that multitasking doesn’t harm the quality of their work. And for that matter, so do we adults! However, it does in fact reduce productivity. Multitasking causes blood flow to switch from one part of the brain to another. This takes time, and kids have to refocus each time they switch to a different activity. The constant interruption by alerts and notifications prevents them from giving their full attention to what’s going on. This makes it difficult for kids to learn, have a face-to-face conversation, be creative and remember information on a deeper level.
  • Release of anxiety and stress provoking hormones: The ping of a text message or an email notification causes the release of dopamine – a chemical associated with pleasure and seeking information – in the brain. This chemical makes us feel we “need to know” what’s in that text or tweet, but we never feel quite satisfied, so we are always anticipating more (you may have heard the term “FOMO”, or “fear of missing out”). This feeling of needing to continually check and respond to devices causes anxiety. Get this – 72% of teens feel the need to respond immediately to their notifications! (Common Sense Media) This compulsion also causes the release of another hormone – cortisol – in the brain. Cortisol is released when we experience stress, and the continually high cortisol level created by device use keeps our teens feeling stressed. Research by Dr Larry D. Rosen, a recognized expert in the psychology of technology, has shown that when teens are without their phones, or worry that their phone is running out of charge, their level of anxiety increases. The people who design devices know the research, and as a result, phones, apps and games are purposely designed to keep kids coming back for more.  Check out this video below from Common Sense Media, showing us what kids themselves have to say about the pressures of technology:

  • Changes in brain development: Excessive screen-time by adolescents may affect their brain development in areas that regulate emotions and processing of information. This can have a negative impact on behaviour (such as impulse control), the development of empathy and compassion for others, and learning.
  • Sleep disruptions: The blue LED light from a smartphone reduces levels of melatonin in the brain, a chemical which helps us sleep. Too much blue light from a digital screen within 2-3 hours of going to sleep increases alertness. This makes it harder to get to sleep and decreases the amount of deeper sleep.  According to Harvard Medical School, poor sleep is linked “to increased risk for depression, as well as diabetes and cardiovascular problems”.

It may sound pretty alarming, but we as parents can make a big difference to our kids’ health by ensuring they use technology responsibly. As expressed in the Globe and Mail, “Screens are, in a sense, like cookies. They’re not great for you to begin with, but they’re really bad for you if they also push all the vegetables off your plate” (Kelly Grant).  Kids need time to be creative, allow their minds to wander, have face-to-face interactions, be physically active and learn to appreciate the benefits of time without technology. They may not be able to live without technology, but their physical and mental wellness, as well as school performance, can definitely benefit from time without devices. By setting screen limits, having device-free zones, encouraging offline activities, being a good role model, talking about their feelings, and reducing multitasking, you can help your whole family develop a more balanced approach. And don’t be afraid to share the scientific findings with your teens. You may have heard the phrase: “Disconnect to reconnect, put your phone down and be present”.  The science makes a strong case to take this advice!

How do you help your teen find balance? Share with us:

For parenting information or to speak with a Public Health Nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.

Posted in Children & Tweens, Emotional Well-being & Mental Health for Your Child/Tween, Emotional Well-Being & Mental Health for Your Teen, Keeping Your Child/Tween Safe, Keeping Your Teen Safe, Parenting, Parenting Your Child/Tween, Parenting Your Teen, Teen Brain, Teens | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How to get your teens moving: Hoodwink or clever parenting?

Think about how much you and your kids are active in relation to how much you sit.  Humans were not made to sit, they were made to move. Muscles need to be worked, blood needs to be circulated, lungs challenged and bones to bear weight.

Girl walking with dog in nature.

Being active is the single best prescription a doctor could give.  It guards against chronic disease, elevates mood and keeps the body operating like a finely tuned machine. Continue reading

Posted in Children & Tweens, Emotional Well-being & Mental Health for Your Child/Tween, Emotional Well-Being & Mental Health for Your Teen, Keeping Your Child/Tween Safe, Keeping Your Teen Safe, Parenting, Parenting Your Child/Tween, Parenting Your Teen, Teens | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

5 awesome things I discovered about being a divorced parent

Mother, daughter and dog relaxed at homeQuite often we hear about how hard it is to be a divorced parent, and it can be, but there are perks too!

When I think back to when my daughter and I were on our own, I have very fond memories.  This is before I married my current husband, so she was between 18 months to seven years old.

Here are 5 AWESOME things I discovered along the way:

  1. I remember enjoying her all to myself, just the two of us, for several days in a row.
  2. I made all the decisions in the house. No one else to check-in with (except of course, my daughter) about what we wanted to do or where we wanted to go.
  3. After a long work week, she and I started a Friday tradition of pizza and movie night. We would spend time in the movie-rental store (I’m dating myself now!) looking for the right movie to rent.  I was able to watch the entire collection of Disney princess movies while snuggled up with her.
  4. Every night, in the middle of the night, she would make her way into my room and crawl into my bed. I pretended to be asleep, but she would fill the empty space beside me and wrap her small arm around my side.
  5. In an effort to help her with learning the joys of reading, I read the entire Spiderwick Chronicles to her, in an English accent (just to add effect). We had a goal of finishing the book before the movie was in theatres. She and I then went to the movie and talked about whether it was true to the book. She still has the book in her collection, despite the shedding of many other childhood books.

These precious moments allowed me to create love and security for my daughter. Today, she is a teenager and it is hard to get her attention. This is normal and what I would expect. But the strong and loving relationship which was built in her childhood, created a young lady who feels comfortable in her own skin, yet knows she can always find support without judgement from her mom.  I will always cherish these memories of just the two of us alone, but always together.

Share with us some of the awesome things you’ve discovered about being a divorced parent!

For parenting information or to speak with a Public Health Nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.

About this guest blogger:

Jennifer Jenkins-Scott: I have been a health professional for 34 years, but more importantly a mother for the last 16. When I am not ‘on-the-job’, I can be found at Mohawk College working towards my certificate in Interior Decorating, on the bike trails, in the gym, skiing, crafting, entertaining or at home either reading a good book or binge watching Netflix.

Posted in Babies, Children & Tweens, Parenting, Parenting Your Baby, Parenting Your Child/Tween, Parenting Your Teen, Parenting Your Toddler & Preschooler, Teens, Toddlers & Preschoolers | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It is possible! Tips for traveling with kids who have special needs

Cute little kid boy with suitcase on international airport. Mother and daughter on background, happy family waiting for flight and going on vacations.With the school break coming up fast, many families are preparing to travel. When you have a child with special needs, or even a child who struggles with transitions, you know there’s more to consider than just packing clothes for everyone. We connected with child development professional, Bev Legare, about the best tips for traveling with a child who has special needs. Bev has spent hours and hours with families helping them plan their family travels and vacations.

Here are the best travel tips she has learned along the way: Continue reading

Posted in Babies, Babies with Special Needs, Children & Tweens, Children & Tweens with Special Needs, Keeping Your Child/Tween Safe, Keeping Your Toddler & Preschooler Safe, Parenting, Parenting Your Baby, Parenting Your Child/Tween, Parenting Your Toddler & Preschooler, Teens, Teens With Special Needs, Toddlers & Preschoolers, Toddlers & Preschoolers with Special Needs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to be your child’s best advocate

Concerned couple with child talking to a professional

You think your child is unwell or may have a developmental delay, or a learning disability – but you’re having difficulty navigating the system to get a diagnosis and a plan. You’re feeling frustrated, worried and scared. Continue reading

Posted in Babies, Babies with Special Needs, Children & Tweens, Children & Tweens with Special Needs, Emotional Well-Being & Mental Health for Your Teen, Parenting, Parenting Your Baby, Parenting Your Child/Tween, Parenting Your Teen, Parenting Your Toddler & Preschooler, Play, Growth & Development, Play, Growth & Development for Babies, Pregnancy, Prenatal Health, Preparing for Kindergarten, Teens, Teens With Special Needs, Toddlers & Preschoolers, Toddlers & Preschoolers with Special Needs, Transition to High School | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Being a healthy divorced mom

When my daughter was 18 months old I made the difficult decision to leave my husband.

I moved to a new city and started over.  We had equal access, but she spent 60% of her time with me or sometimes closer to 80%, as my ex-husband traveled for business.  It was a busy, hectic and stressful time, but also a wonderful time.

Content Mother and daughter blowing bubbles

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Posted in Babies, Children & Tweens, Depression & Anxiety After Birth, Depression & Anxiety During Pregnancy, Parenting, Parenting Your Baby, Parenting Your Child/Tween, Parenting Your Teen, Parenting Your Toddler & Preschooler, Teens, Toddlers & Preschoolers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

How to help our kids deal with tragic news

Tragic events take place all around the world and many adults are challenged to process what has happened. As adults we know these types of events are extremely rare. We will react in different ways and with a range of different emotions that might vary from sadness to anger to anxiety.

Children on the other hand, do not have the same knowledge, experience or ability to deal with what they are hearing about these events. It can be very scary for them. They may think that it will happen to them or to people they love.

Upset boy sitting at the table and his sister supporting him while having meal with their parents

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Posted in Children & Tweens, Emotional Well-being & Mental Health for Your Child/Tween, Emotional Well-Being & Mental Health for Your Teen, Keeping Your Child/Tween Safe, Keeping Your Teen Safe, Keeping Your Toddler & Preschooler Safe, Parenting, Parenting Your Child/Tween, Parenting Your Teen, Parenting Your Toddler & Preschooler, Play, Growth & Development, Teens, Toddlers & Preschoolers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment