What do Screen Time, Sitting Time and Adolescent Marijuana Use have in common? And how does it all connect with self-regulation and youth mental health?
I often bump into my When will what we know change what we do query. It has had a fair bit of play over time and yes, it’s easier to say than to activate. Sometimes it’s not that important when we know something and choose not to act on that knowledge (this cookie is too tempting to resist even though I know it isn’t good for the body’s chemistry…) But there are other times when it’s far more important to act on knowledge, even when it means challenging routines, beliefs and comfortable norms.
Here are three areas to explore because action on them can and should make a difference. Stuart Shanker says “There is not a single kid whose trajectory we cannot change,” but that change can’t just be founded on hope and optimism. It has to involve us individually and as a society making different decisions, establishing new norms and acting on current science and research. Then, it really does become possible to increase healthy brain function, good mental health and a capacity to self-regulate for that kid and that kid and that kid…
1) The Screen: In a world where TVs, tablets and laptop computers have become part of the standard furnishing in bedrooms, helping us to “relax and unwind,” we now know more about their impact on our brain function than we did when they first moved beyond the living room. Screen time and the absorbed light rays – more intense in a darkened room – play havoc with our brain patterns and our ability to go into a deep and healthy sleep. Experts suggest that it takes up to 90 minutes after the screen is shut off and your head hits the pillow for the brain to “quiet down.” That’s 90 minutes subtracted from an already too brief sleep time. It’s 90 minutes when the brain doesn’t get into its repair and growth cycle that happens during restorative sleep. What is that doing to the developing brain of a young child? Is the iPad as a toddler’s bedtime companion a good idea? For older brother or sister, the impact is equally significant. Think about an already late, frequently re-negotiated bedtime. Add in screen time resulting in shallow sleep, interrupted by an alarm clock that jolts the adolescent up for a too early school day. For good measure, throw in a “no breakfast scramble” to get out the door. Think about the cumulative impact on a kid’s brain health and growth. And then the school day begins.
We know that healthy brain development is the most precious down payment we can make in a youngster’s trajectory. We now know more about what screen time – its amount and timing – does to brain development. I wonder how many screens will come out of bedrooms and how many bedtime routines will be adjusted when what we know collides with what we do. Need more evidence? Read this: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mental-wealth/201402/gray-matters-too-much-screen-time-damages-the-brain
2) The Seat: You have seen the brain scans of kids who are active versus those who are sedentary. It’s a pretty remarkable contrast and the areas of the brain that are firing during physical activity include those that light up during learning. Knowing that, let’s think about what the school day typically looks like. We take the most energetic and kinesthetic segment of our human population (our kids) and put them in seats for 5+ hours/day, with occasional, standardized breaks. We sustain a social reward system, represented in report card comments that laud kids for sitting still and paying attention and call out those kids who are otherwise disposed. If children “misbehave” (perhaps acting out because of the prolonged lack of physical action??), a traditional penalty has been to keep them inside and sedentary during recess or lunch time when energy expended and restored could help bring a more balanced state of self-regulation and calm.
Eric Jensen’s Teaching With the Brain in Mind (yes please), does a wonderful job of making the case for physical activity and sounding a call to action: http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/104013/chapters/Movement-and-Learning.aspx
We are now also seeing research that gives adults some bad news about our own sedentary habits. If you spend an hour in the gym or on the track every morning, the good outcomes of that commitment are more than undone by hours of sitting – as many of us do for much of our day. Take a look: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/prolonged-sitting-may-increase-risk-of-certain-cancers/
With that new knowledge, are we making serious attempts to restructure our learning day, our work day and the routines and furnishings that enable healthier environments? Have purchase standards changed for schools and for office spaces to allow for standing desks and more mobile work stations and classroom layouts? Is the stand up or walking meeting just a fad in a few “out of the box” organizations? Such options aren’t neat and tidy, but if health trumps uniformity, it seems like a pretty good investment.
3) Adolescent Marijuana Use: Another in the Knowing/Doing connection. No comment here. Just an opportunity to think about this current science, laid out in a series of Globe and Mail articles with the attention-grabbing headline Your Kid’s Brain on Pot. It’s an interesting read and a good survey of the issues related with the intersection of drug use and brain development. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/your-kids-brain-on-pot-the-real-effects-of-marijuana-on-teens/article21127612/
Knowing…Doing. It’s hard work to stay current and to implement change, but surely we owe it to our kids at home, at school, and on the playing field. They are our future.
For an interesting read, try these two Angela Hanscom Washington Post blog articles linked below. They do a thought-provoking job of highlighting one of the key issues in our self-regulation learning journey. Too often, the adult world, including its schools, expects kids to exhibit what is often referred to as “self-control” – a label that puts too many eggs in one basket, believing that willpower and effort can and should trump neurophysiology and evolution. For youngsters, sitting still, compliant and attentive in school for 5+ hours/day isn’t anywhere close to being connected to human development and how we are hard-wired. We are all built to move, especially children whose overall development depends on the constant feedback that comes from physical action. Juxtapose that reality with the shape of the school day and then add to that our increasing willingness to allow those same kids to lock into “screen time” once they get home. For many children, the dominant state during their waking hours is one of physical inactivity. Many parks are empty but the household bandwidth is crowded. It is no wonder that in an increasingly sedentary population, “Diagnosis ADHD” gallops on.
The Washington Post blogs present another of those “when will what we know change what we do?” moments. Thankfully, more and more people are asking that question, becoming engaged at the awareness level, then building (through curiosity and reflection) into understanding, eventually getting to a place where we are able to take on responsibility for change. It is a long and non-linear path, one step at a time and it requires us to discard some old certainties and embrace curiosity combined with a good dose of non-conformity to system norms and expectations.
While you’re in curiosity mode, here’s a video clip featuring a school in Australia that has begun to address the sedentary/sitting challenge by introducing a stand up classroom. http://www.jump-in.com.au/show/60minutes/stories/2014/september/stand-up-australia/
It’s a good reminder for all of us as we fold ourselves into cars, desks/workstations and then back home to recline on the living room couch. Just like the kids, we’re wired to move.