Screen Time and Overstimulating Children
Human beings historically grew up in low-stimulation, natural environments. Life was pretty much the same from one day to the next, and screen time was obviously non-existent. However, today’s children experience radically different childhoods. Young people today and even babies are encouraged to always be doing something. As such, many people are wondering whether we are in a kind of evolutionary mismatch. We evolved to live in one kind of environment but find ourselves in quite another.
The effects of the mismatch caused by overstimulation are visible everywhere. Too much sensory input is associated with trouble sleeping, behavioral and learning problems, and even delayed development. Children can’t get the time-out they need for their brains to rewire properly, preventing them from growing up conventionally. There’s just too much going on for their developing brains to handle.
Overstimulation can even lead to children becoming frustrated, angry, or tantrum-prone. Kids who can’t get the downtime they need may feel like they are battling against the world all the time, never able to get into a natural rhythm.
What Are The Primary Causes Of Overstimulation?
The main reason for overstimulation is likely excessive screen time. Research indicates many children are spending upwards of seven hours a day just staring at the phone and interacting with screens. That means the majority of their leisure time is dominated by social media, the internet, and gaming.
What causes the overstimulation is a matter of debate. Some researchers believe it is the flashing images and bright lights. Others think it might be a combination of the dopamine rewards that come from interacting with social media sites. In reality, it is likely a mix of all those factors.
Another contributing factor to kids’ overstimulation is excessively busy schedules. Children never get a chance to just direct their own activities and enjoy free time. School takes up weekdays while evenings and weekends are full of club activities, trips, and sports.
Lastly, overstimulation may come from an overabundance of toys and gadgets. The phenomenon of baby overstimulation is probably on the rise because of this. Many modern toys make loud noises and feature bright lights and colors that may be too much for some children. Furthermore, they leave less to the imagination, making it harder for kids to engage in creative play at a pace that suits them.
What Can Parents And Teachers Do To Prevent Excessive Screen Time?
Fortunately, there are several things parents and teachers can do to prevent excessive screen time. The trick is to return kids to environments that are closer to what they would have been in the past – low stimulation and screen time.
Of course, making these changes in the modern world is challenging with screens and TVs everywhere. However, even little changes can provide your kids with the space they need to develop properly.
The first tactic is to simply reduce screen time. Ideally, you want this to be below an hour per day, though that might not be realistic in most situations. If you are struggling, switch screen time for playing outdoors, reading, and spending time socializing with family. Get kids into nature where possible and encourage them to focus more on the world “out there” than the one depicted on their devices.
You can also try creating quiet spaces in the home or at school. These are places kids can go to engage in traditional activities that would have dominated the childhood of most young people historically. Focus these spaces on helping children master physical dexterity skills by providing blocks and balls. You might also want to encourage unstructured play where kids have to create and invent their own activities. This way, they learn how to self-direct play instead of waiting to take orders from someone else.
Avoid the temptation to provide external direction. Kids will naturally fill the void with their own experimentation. These skills help them become more independent adults when they grow up. They are more likely to be the masters of their own lives instead of taking orders from other people.
Finally, it is a good idea to model healthy habits and behaviors yourself. Don’t tell your children to spend less than 30 minutes on their devices per day if you are spending upwards of 7 hours a day on yours. Instead, show them how to live and they will naturally copy you.
Ensure you combine activities with plenty of relaxation, too. Kids need time to recharge their physical and mental batteries as they grow and develop into mature adults.