A few years ago the American Association of Pediatrics made their first announcement about the use of TV, computers, phones, tablets and other electronic devices with children. They have recently come out with some more recommendations. I think these are very important guidelines to follow (at the minimum) by a very mainstream conventional Western Medical organisation.
Awareness of the health and wellness impact, both positive and negative, of the digital age is just starting to unfold.
Blue Light Exposure
We’ve seen an increased depth of data regarding the impact of blue light exposure from screens on sleep patterns and suppression of melatonin level. In addition to insomnia, lowered melatonin is correlated with a number of diseases including cancer (though remember correlation does not apply causation…ie there is currently no direct link to my knowledge between screen exposure and cancer). (See my previous blog on the subject for more).
We’ve also seen rising concern over the low-grade stress-response, which includes a slight feeling of anxiety/nervousness, shallow breathing, stooped, posture, and suppression of bodily functions (including thirst, hunger, fatigue, and needing to use the bathroom) associated with computer, in particular the internet. We all know the scenario, crouched over our computer, intently focused, as we chase after one elusive tidbit of information after another, like a weasel in a labyrinthine rabbit warren. Ignoring our urgent need to urinate, our red and itching eyes, our grumpy back…There is a highly addictive element to the internet that is very insidious!
With childhood development in particular the data is clear enough for the AAP to make their strongly worded statement. Messing with childhood mental and emotional development is nothing to take lightly. As you shall see in the article. In addition to their concern I’ve also encountered concerns about communication skills and social interactions altering as well as a growing difficulty to have moments without informational input (boredom!).
What to do?
In addition to the general recommendations made in the article one of my solutions is to maximise outdoor time (for myself and my kids). There are many great books and websites with ideas for indoor and outdoor activities. The key is discovering interactive means of entertainment which are embodied and sensory (not just visual). By interactive I mean with the world at hand: with games, puzzles, sculpting, building, colouring, reading, and free play (especially outdoors with found objects). Our kids are really starting to enjoy helping with chores, especially thing such as sweeping and cooking (you can get kid safe knives for chopping fruit and veg). Playing music together or family dance time (my son loves Santana dance parties) is also great. There are some very good developmentally informed music methods appropriate for children of all ages that support child-parent bonding such as Colourstrings. In our family we generally make “movie night” a special occasion with snuggling on the couch and usually use story tapes when we need a few minutes of interruption free time and the kids are not managing to distract themselves without constant parental input (MOMMY!!!!!!!!). When I’m stuck at the computer (like I am this morning) I soon feel overwhelmed with the business of the work and feel very much undernourished in my soul. It tends to be superficial and endless. However, I can alleviate some of the discomforts by setting an hourly alarm to stretch, do a few minutes of deep breathing (HeartMath), and change my focus to a broader horizon (such as the view from our house of the Loch and the mountains beyond . Weather permitting I work much better outside.
With that said, it’s a challenging situation, and I often have difficulty following my own good advice!