it’s sustained attention with frequent intermittent rewards.”
-Christopher Lucas, associate professor of child psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine describing the way the brain forms itself when playing a video game like MineCraft
I could just have easily added TVs, DVDs, Video Games to my take on the Wizard of Oz reference, but it would have lost whatever meager poetic charm it possesses. To my great delight, more and more articles are surfacing around what all these media devices may be doing to the neurological, emotional, and social health of children and adults. As a Doctor of Chiropractic and a Board Certified Neurofeedback Therapist, I have more knowledge of the nervous system than the average person. Practicing clinically for over 15 years, my experience with metabolic disorders, nutrition, behavioral disorders, parenting, and mental illness continues to expand my knowledge and views on health, consciousness, and the deeper questions of spiritual life. But it also often leaves me frustrated by my own fear of what is very obvious to those with the knowledge but completely invisible to those without. The most exciting aspect of this dilemma is that it pushes me, or rather compels me, to continue to learn more, listen better, explain differently, try harder and persist, persist, persist. This area, however, continues to elude me. Forgive me for not being able thus far to explain this in a more captivating way as to compel change. After all, why do I teach? Why do I serve? Because I want to help people be inspired to live a life they truly love and do it with joy, passion, and excitement. And that is incredibly difficult to do with dis-ease and suboptimal health. So, every time I fail to help someone shift their own consciousness to make more loving choices for their mind, body, spirit, I figure I am one person closer to finally figuring it out.
This topic, MEDIA EXPOSURE, is a big one. It's a paradigm shifting topic. And very few people are actually addressing it with a clear, loving yet LOUD enough voice to incur effective change. Perhaps, I can become one of those voices?
When a parent asks me, "So what's so bad about playing on the iPad (insert 'watching TV' etc)?" my answer is NEVER concise, well formulated, or incredibly persuasive. It's a tough question. The evidence supporting the risks rather than the benefits of these passive activities is so numerous, I never know where to begin. There are many chapters in various books devoted to the topic that I've read but nothing I have seen so far completely captures all of its implications in the total health of our beings especially when it comes to the rapidly growing and therefore considerably more vulnerable pediatric brain. But there aren't really tons of research studies to cite, it's really more about understanding physiology and neurodevelopmental biology. Coming up with a 30 second elevator pitch to explain how damaging TV, video games, tablets, cell phones, etc are to a child (and to a slightly lesser degree an adult) neurologically, biologically, academically, emotionally, socially, and psychologically feels like a Herculean effort most days...and I am left in my office with the realization that Zeus is indeed not MY father.
"With technology allowing nearly 24-hour media access as children and teens go about their daily lives, the amount of time young people spend with entertainment media has risen dramatically, especially among minority youth, according to a study released today by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Today, 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week). And because they spend so much of that time ‘media multitasking’ (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content into those 7½ hours." Kaiser Family Foundation, January 20, 2010
Children are watching an average 7.5 HOURS of media per DAY. Did that register on you? Almost a full 8 hour work day in front of an electronic screen? Outside of the WASTED time alone, time they can't be reading books, laughing with friends, playing tag, swimming, writing poetry, building a go cart complete with rebuilt engine, gardening, sewing, creatively playing a spy game throughout the block with their peers, getting into fights with siblings and finding their own ways to resolve, sleeping, studying, actively engaged in daydreaming, wonder, staring at clouds, looking for bugs, building a fort, or in other words:
They have lost 7.5 hours of time not building the type of neural networks in their brains they will need to THINK with LOGIC, SOLVE PROBLEMS CREATIVELY, maintain ATTENTION and CONCENTRATION for long periods of time, SELF REGULATE behavior and emotions, IMPROVE SOCIAL SKILLS, improve language skills, IMAGINE solutions and products that have never even existed.
But what they have done is create the wiring in a brain that is built upon rapid light flickers and changes stimulating a fight or flight (anxious/panic) sympathetic nervous system response; a brain that needs very quick changes in content and cannot remain still and focused for very long; a brain that is passive rather than active; a brain that is overwhelmed with slow brainwaves (under arousal related to conditions such as ADHD and other learning disorder) in an attempt to manage the overwhelming barrage of sensory input into the brain (in essence the brain has to "veg" out from the SHOCK it goes into from the sympathetic adrenaline rush from the primitive brain's interpretation of the flickering light a fast changing images;) a brain that needs an influx of dopamine on a consistent basis to feel balanced (dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps the brain in its reward and pleasure center - imbalances are related to addiction and sensation seeking behaviors, Parkinson's, ADHD, and schizophrenia, for example); a brain that struggles to connect and maintain real life human interactions; a brain that doesn't know how to wait and control its impulses.
And then we wonder why so many are struggling to perform basic life skills at home and in school today. And look to a magical drug to cure them from their illness. And show up in offices like mine across the country with tears in our eyes begging for help for our child struggling with school, social skills, anxiety, learning and perhaps agitation, aggression, and violent behavior.
Like I said, this topic is clearly too big for me to address in this format. I'm simply not that good yet. So, I will leave you with a couple links of some youtube videos and articles that will help you if you are interested in learning more. Although,, this blog is short and incomplete, it is a pivotal moment for me. It has stopped me dead in my tracks. A huge moment of AHA! followed by nothing short of panic. As I typed, my next journey was revealed: I can be that voice. I can write a book about this.
A book? Yes, everyone seems to have one today, but I have never done it before, I don't know how to do it, and I have never tried. And, I'm scared. But, this is a great way to learn, don't you think?
So there is it is. You are my witness. I will finally be able to answer that question completely!