Electronic Screen Syndrome: A Current Topic Review

Deep in my heart, I feel that screen-time, whatever avenue it comes from- TV, smartphones, computers, video games- are not good for us.  Especially when used excessively– as most of us tend to do these days.

I have felt this in myself.  Over the past few years, I have let screen-time, specifically, social media, creep into my life.  When I would be waiting in the carpool line or for the pasta to boil, I’d pull out my phone, check in on Facebook and see what’s going on.

During this time, I also felt an incredible unsettledness.  A deep, unhappy feeling.  And at times, I know now, it was a form of depression.  I hated it.

By some miracle, one day, the Facebook app on my phone stopped working.  I decided to not fix it.  I went one week without checking in.

I felt lighter.

The next week, I deleted Instragram.

I felt happier.

I have not been on any form of social media in months.  I feel better than I have in years.  I know this is just one example from my little corner of the world…. BUT…. what if screens have an even bigger impact on our brains and bodies than we might not have even imagined before?  Especially on our children’s brains and bodies?

Have you heard of Electronic Screen Syndrome (ESS)?  This is a new topic to me, but I feel that it is spot on.  Completely. Spot. On.

This concept is presented in an incredibly eye-opening book: Reset Your Child’s Brain by Victoria Dunckley, MD.  It has changed my thinking forever.

Dr. Dunckley suggests that screen-time affects our bodies and brains (particularly our children’s bodies and brains) on multiple levels.  She suggests that screen-time shifts the “nervous system into fight-or-flight mode, which leads to dysregulation and disorganization of various biological systems” (pg 16).  What this means is that  screen-time changes the way children’s brains are regulated.  They keep our kids hyperaroused (ready to fight or flee!),  they throw off the hormone balances that control sleep and mood, they keep the heart rate up, they activate reward pathways, etc, etc. (If you want to delve deeper into this she has a great chapter in her book explaining all of this.)

So, what is the big deal?

The big deal is what all these changes lead to.  The symptoms of ESS.  Here are some of them:

  • The child has symptoms related to  hyperarousal (irritable, depression, rapidly changing moods, excessive trantrums, low frustration tolerance, poor self-regulation, disorganized behavior, oppositional-defiant behaviors, poor sportsmanships, social immaturity, poor eye contact, insomnia, learning difficulties, poor short-term memory
  • Tics, stuttering, hallucinations, seizures
  • A child is “stressed out,” “revved up,” “wired,” or “out of it”
  • Family members “having to walk on eggshells” around child.
  • The child may be intensely drawn to screens or difficulty pulling away from them.

These are serious symptoms.  They can completely disrupt life for these children and their families.  Dr. Dunckley presents case after case of a child being misdiagnosed while presenting the symptoms above because ESS can mimic many disorders- bipolar, ADHD.  And it can also exacerbate mental health conditions that are already there.

Is your child having difficulty with any of these symptoms?  Are you at your wits end trying to figure out what’s going on?  Does he or she already have a mental health diagnosis and you are having a hard time controlling their behavior?

If so, I would get this book, read it and bring it to your pediatrician’s or therapists office to discuss.  Her prescription includes an electronic fast for four weeks. It’s free.  It’s simple.  It might be difficult to institute at first, but she reports incredible results from deeply troubled kids and young adults.

If you’ve thought maybe screens could be a bigger problem for your child than anyone will admit; or if this idea stirs something inside that God-given, parent-brain of yours- what do you have to lose?  Check out her book.  It could save your child.