Discover what the latest neuroscience says about striking a balance between screens and the developing brains of our teens, tweens and littles.
By Megan Reimann, MA.Ed Special Education, NBCT
“Only boring people are bored” I remember my mother saying this to me when I was a child, and it was expected that my brother, sister and I figured out how to entertain ourselves for long periods of time without planting ourselves in front of the television.
As it turns out, this was a GOOD thing for our developing brains, and today, science has brought a whole new meaning to idea of “boring." No longer is it “boring people are bored,” rather, being bored actually grows many important networks in your brain that are associated with persistence through a task, drive towards a goal, the ability to control attention, and our ability to problem solve and be cognitively flexible.
Tip #1 - What does the science say?
Walter Mischel’s Marshmallow Test teaches us that learning to “delay gratification” and improving self-control leads to better life outcomes.
What can you do? One thing parents can do is explicitly teach about delayed gratification and “waiting." Our children today have less practice in their natural environment than we did just 15 years ago before the development of smart phones and tablets. Setting up situations where kids have to practice using cognitive skills to learn patience, and waiting for something they want, will help build that “delay muscle!" Pay me now or pay me later! Developing these skills now will pay off down the road (I'll be discussing this further in my next webinar).
Tip #2 - What does the science say?
The reward center of the brain lights up in the same way when using screens as it does using drugs.
Without boundaries, balance and bonding, individuals risk becoming addicted to their devices.
What can you do? Early on, create and model boundaries around devices and the amount of time kids are on devices. Build non-screen time activities into your daily/weekly routine and discuss with kids the importance of a balanced “screen” diet.
In addition to this, finding time to bond with friends, family and community ( face to face) without the use of screens will help reduce anxiety, the likelihood of dependency and addiction, and foster important communication and connectedness.
Tip #3 What does the science say?
The digital age we live in today has changed the way we interact in the world and with one-another.
Along with delayed gratification becoming a potential problem, research has shown that television and screen use can change the brain’s ability to “attend” to a task for an extended period of time, especially if the task is “boring” or does not have a high degree of value to the individual.
We know that controlling attention, regulating emotional control when it comes to boredom tolerance and frustration tolerance, is a necessary skill for optimal school/life performance.
What can you do? As with learning to “wait” more explicit teaching, labeling, and practicing the development of these cognitive skills is far more important today than ever before. In the classroom and at home, we can create a set of common vocabulary words, such as “ attentional spot light” “persist through the task” “shield out distractions” etc. to help our kids begin to develop awareness and learn to self-monitor their attention and the tools they need to “persist” through all types of tasks.
My upcoming webinar will cover specific ideas and ways to do this at home and in the classroom to help improve attention and persistence.
Mēgan, a coach here at the Hallowell Todaro ADHD Center, has been an educator for over 15 years. She specializes in working with adolescents and young adults with learning differences (ADHD, Learning Disabilities, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia and Dyscalculia, Anxiety and Depression).
Her upcoming webinar, 'Screaming About Screens,' delves deeper into the effect of screen-use on developing brains.