Screen time and children's brain development

Screen time and children's brain development

Interoception: The Missing Piece in Our Screen-Time Puzzle

I know how it feels to just want a quiet house for 5 minutes. I know how it feels to just want to stop a tantrum or sooking as quick as possible because an upset child breaks my heart and gives me a headache. I have a device in my pocket that could quickly stop one of my children's tantrums, or make our dinner time at a restaurant quiet. I have a device in my pocket that could end sibling arguments or allow me time and space to focus at the supermarket without kids telling me all of the lollies that they want in our shopping order this week.


However, at some point, we need to chat about what's happening to some of our children's learning, development, and behavior since the introduction of screens. We need to discuss our own arousal and self-regulation challenges since we have a device sitting next to our bed at night time. Our brains are feeling more heightened, more distracted, less physically and intellectually stimulated. Imagine what screens are doing for our children's growing brains.


Interoception: Understanding Our Internal World


Interoception is the sense that allows us to understand our internal bodily sensations. It's how we perceive and make sense of things like hunger, thirst, and even emotional states. As parents, we often focus on our children's external experiences – what they see, hear, and touch – but we should also consider what's happening internally, within their bodies. Interoception plays a crucial role in self-regulation and emotional understanding.


Since screens have been introduced into prams, trolleys, dinner tables, and playdates, we are seeing less and less social engagement, physical activity, and emotional regulation from our little ones (my children included). We are seeing a decline in some children's ability to play, take turns, negotiate with their peers, explore their environment without upending it, regulate their nervous system in a non-tech social environment, manage their brain's need to have the same lights, sounds, and quick swipe sensations that come from a device while at kindergarten or school.


The Role of Interoception in Screen Time


Interoception also plays a significant role in how we manage our arousal levels and self-regulate. When children are constantly engaged with screens, they may become detached from their internal bodily cues. They might not notice when they're hungry or tired, which can lead to irritability and emotional outbursts.


The constant sensory stimulation from screens can overpower their ability to recognize and interpret internal signals. This can lead to difficulties in managing emotions, as well as challenges in focusing and sustaining attention, which can be detrimental to their learning and development.


Finding a Healthy Balance


Why am I ranting about screen time now? Because educators and teachers are trying so hard to manage the escalating behaviors and declining play skills at kindergarten since the introduction of screens.


Some highly experienced educators and teachers are quitting their jobs that they're so passionate about, because they feel like 'punching bags'. Just trying to referee social challenges and set up different play spaces because traditional play spaces aren't being used how we would have seen them being used 10 years ago.


We all know technology has its place. It has its benefits. But if we could try and make sure that children still sing or chat up and down each supermarket aisle without a device. If we make sure that siblings play a board game or do a craft activity together, even just for 10 minutes each day. If we make sure that all of us keep our body active with a silly dance in the kitchen, or throwing and catching a rolled-up pair of socks together.


It's our role as parents to give our children the stimulation, play, and social interaction that our children need for healthy brain development. There can be time for screens. But let's make sure we lay the foundation for play, learning, and self-regulation first, so our children have the physical, social, emotional, and nervous system skills that they will need not only at kindergarten and school but also in life.

We're all trying our best to manage a piece of technology that has been designed to get our kids addicted. Let's just all support each other and continue this conversation so we can work together to find a healthy balance with development and devices, taking into consideration the crucial role of interoception in our children's well-being.

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