Believe it or not, a child’s nervous system can become overstimulated by regular screen exposure that comes from cell phones, computers, iPads and other digital devices. These devices can cause chronic stress on the brain, which may result in various different learning and behavioural disorders.
Electronic Screen Syndrome (ESS) is considered an unrecognised modern-day disorder. The interaction with screens can shift the nervous system into fight-or-flight mode, which causes dysregulation and disorganisation of different biological systems.
Once in this state, your child’s mood, behaviour, and focus can be affected. ESS isn’t limited to teenagers obsessed with digital devices; toddlers can be affected too.
The latest research suggests that around 90% of children can use an electronic tablet by the age of two. What’s worrying about this statistic is that each time a child picks up a device, changes happen in the brain that can lead to overstimulation and hyperarousal.
According to Dr Victoria Dunckley, author of Reset Your Child’s Brain, ESS symptoms typically include poor focus, irritable mood, and disorganised or disobedient behaviour. Children with ESS are easily frustrated, tearful and angry. They tend to have meltdowns over minor incidents. They often struggle in school because they can’t get their work done and may display immature behaviour that’s off-putting to their friends.
Technology is known to have a hyper-arousing effect, as it can raise dopamine levels – the feel-good neurotransmitter that also plays a role in forming addictions. Children with ESS tend to lose interest in anything that isn’t electronically based and may show little imaginative play or creative expression.
ESS risk factors
Children with ESS are drawn to their screens – so much so that it becomes hard to pull them away.
The following factors may increase the risk of ESS:
- Younger age
- Behaviour disorders (like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or autism)
- Psychosocial stressors
- Addiction tendencies
- Sensory dysfunction
Help your child
As a parent, the first step to help address this syndrome is to recognise the signs. If the following questions apply to your child, he may have, or be at risk for, ESS:
- Has your child progressively become defiant or disorganised?
- Does your child have full-blown rages?
- Does he have meltdowns over minor frustrations?
- Do they become irritable when told to stop playing video games or to get off the tablet/computer?
- Do you ever notice your child’s pupils are dilated after using electronic devices?
- Does your child have a hard time making eye contact after screen time or in general?
- Do you ever feel your child isn’t as happy as they should be, or isn’t enjoying activities as much as they used to?
- Does your child have trouble making or keeping friends because of immature behaviour?
Try to remove screen stimulation from your child’s routine. This will allow for your little one’s brain to get deep rest and will assist in rebalancing their brain chemistry and hormone levels, while at the same time, restoring their mental energy. This can help to improve his mood, focus, and behaviour in a matter of weeks.