BY: Victoria L. Dunckley
Many parents come to me and ask: Is this normal? Is my child misdiagnosed? Who do I believe when professionals are giving me different answers? Is there something in my child’s environment I can change before resorting to psychotropic medication?
Some parents haven’t noticed a problem but a teacher is concerned. Other times the child is doing okay in school but is alienating his friends. And still other times a child who had previously had no problems at all starts falling apart, has meltdowns, and begins to struggle in school.
All of these scenarios can leave a parent confused and overwhelmed–afraid to turn one direction for fear you’ll miss something. You may wonder whether you need professional help, and which professional to turn to (neurologist? pediatric behaviorist? educational specialist? psychiatrist? family therapist?), and even if you do decide on one, you may wonder how to choose “the best”. Some people don’t even not take any action at all because they’re afraid of the answers they may get. That’s totally normal and understandable.
If you’re worried about your child, here’s what you should know about video games’ effects:
An extensive review of the studies, combined with my own clinical experience in helping so many children recover their well-being and mental health, has shown me that there is not just one toxic pathway but multiple toxic pathways induced by electronic screen exposure. The brain is more sensitive to toxins than any other organ, and the eyes are the only part of the nervous system connected to the outside world. Furthermore, small brain changes in chemistry and blood flow can lead to big changes over time, and can set in motion a cascade of negative events that self-perpetuate.
Here’s some basic science explaining why video games are damaging to your child’s brain and body:
EYES: the eyes connect the outside world directly to the brain. That is why video games can cause seizures in some children. Electronic screens are unnaturally bright with vivid colors. This attracts the eye, but the eyes and brain were not made to handle this intense stimulation. One change that occurs as a direct result is the signals that tell our brains to go to sleep don’t get triggered, and insomnia often results.
BRAIN DEVELOPMENT & the FRONTAL LOBE: The evidence is mounting that active video gamers’ frontal lobes do not develop properly. Why is this so alarming? Because adolescence is the time that the frontal lobe develops most actively, and it determines personality, impulse control, empathy, planning, and reasoning abilities. Basically, all the things we need to succeed in life! Even cell phone usage and texting have been shown to negatively impact frontal lobe function.
BODY: Because the brain thinks it’s in a fight-or-flight mode even when playing educational electronic games, the body sends out stress hormones. These stress hormones are toxic to every organ in our bodies; they also affect sleep, learning and memory.
BRAIN and MOOD: Anything electronic causes irritability. Again, there are multiple mechanisms causing these mood changes. Frontal lobe blood flow, hormones, and brain chemicals like dopamine all contribute to the irritable mood you see after your child plays. To explain this a little further, when the child plays they release “feel good” chemicals (dopamine), and when they stop, they are in a relative state of withdrawal. This looks just like drug withdrawal, by the way! The child might be tearful, irritable, disorganized, depressed and feel they can’t concentrate.