State College Magazine

Device Drain

The intersection of screens, anxiety and nutrition for children.

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Today, children and adolescents spend an average of two hours and 15 minutes a day on digital devices (just think, that means half of young people are logged on even longer) and nearly half of all children younger than the age of 8 have their own tablet device.

Parents and caregivers often bemoan how much time children spend on devices. But are we actually digging deeper to fully understand the effects of screen time on the developing brain? Or are we simply wagging our fingers in disapproval at “kids these days”?

From kindergarteners to college students, there’s in increase in young people presenting with anxiety. Anxiety in children and teens could result in sleep problems, poor school performance, risky behavior and even overeating, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30% of today’s children and adolescents will be affected by anxiety at some point.

Device dependency, experts suggest, could be causing some of this rise in anxiety. This is also commonly referred to as screen time, but it’s not strictly the screen that is the issue. The constant influence from the outside world in the form of smartphones, tablets, video game consoles and headphones keeps children’s brains constantly stimulated. As a result, there’s no opportunity for solitude.

Solitude is a human need. Solitude is the absence of input from other people’s minds, whether in the form of images, video, text or audio.

When devices are constantly present in a young person’s life (school, home, restaurants, car rides — screens really are everywhere!), they are required to constantly context switch between worlds, responsibilities and conversation. This context switching prevents problem solving, cognitive engagement and the ability to think deeply.

The effects of persistent screen time and context switching are profound. A recent National Institutes of Health study found that children who spend more than two hours a day on devices score lower on language and thinking tests. In fact, the same study found that children who log seven hours or more of screen time demonstrated a thinning of the brain’s cortex (the area of the brain related to critical thinking and reasoning).

What can you do as a parent?

Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with finger-wagging instructions to limit your child’s screen time. It’s time we think beyond setting timers and hiding devices.

There is a direct intersection between anxiety and nutrition or, more specifically, between the nervous system and nutrition.

If your young one is more wound up at night, struggles to rise in the morning, skips meals (especially while at school) or displays lower energy and interest in play than their peers — these can all be signs of an imbalanced nervous system and anxiety.

Nutrition and nutritional supplements can support a young person’s nervous system by targeting cortisol maintenance, brain chemistry and foundational metabolic function. This targeted therapy works synergistically to improve anxiety and calm your children with lifestyle changes in device dependency.

The right vitamin B therapy can calm nervousness and improve school performance. Specific amino acid supplementation can be key to resolve nighttime bouncing off the walls and help children settle. Increased protein intake can also transform children’s daytime energy levels (and prevent crashes).

Supplements can’t undo hours of device time. And, it’s important to recognize that simply dropping the devices won’t rebalance a child’s nervous system. Especially for those whose nervous systems and cognition developed in unison with their devices.

This is where devices, anxiety and nutrition intersect. With a dual approach of less screen time and more individualized nutritional support, we can decrease the incidence of anxiety in our young people.

We must think holistically when targeting young people’s mental and physical health.

Laura Menefee, M.S., C.N.S., is a Certified Nutrition Specialist who specializes in behavior modification therapies and evidence-based nutritional therapies. Learn more about her work at bewellassociates.com.

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