Term Two is a great time of year for learning because the children are settled in their school routines and understand the expectations of their year level. It is a time for consolidating their understanding of concepts learnt in the first term and for inquiring into new ideas and understandings. When speaking with the students during the first few days of term, it was clear to see their excitement in being back with their friends and engaged in learning again.
During the holiday break many young people enjoy spending extra time on their computer games and technology. It can be a lot of fun and seen as a good way to relax. There is nothing wrong with children using digital tools for entertainment as long as they are supervised and their technology use is well balanced with plenty of other past-times such as outdoor games, conversations with family and friends and hands-on activities.
Digital change is a little like climate change – it has just crept up on us and surrounds us. We are not really equipped to handle it or the impacts it brings. We can’t live without technology today, but we don’t really know how to effectively live with technology.
While there are enormous benefits in technology, there are some aspects that may not be that helpful. For example, the impact of too much computer gaming on the young mind can leave a child hyped up and stressed because of the natural chemical changes that take place in the brain during the game.
Consider the scenario below that may have occurred in a home you know:
A family has organised a Sunday lunch together with friends and nine year old Wayne is called away from his computer game to join everyone. He complies but is bored with adult conversation around the table and can’t wait to be excused. Finally he is given permission to leave the table and he rushes to get back to his game. His mother isn’t keen on computer games but thinks, ‘What’s the harm? It is giving Wayne something to do while all these visitors are in the house.’
Wayne enjoys the game and plays for about an hour, completely oblivious to the rest of the family and friends. Wayne’s brain becomes highly stimulated and excited as he uses strategies and different movements to master levels, build up his weapons and defeat the enemy. His heart rate increases and his blood pressure rises, preparing him for battle. The chemical dopamine is released into his brain giving him a ‘feel-good’ mood and lifting his interest. His blood flows from his kidneys, liver and gut, and to his heart and limbs. Wayne is ready for fight or flight.
Wayne is so absorbed in the game that he is unaware of his little sister beside him. She touches the screen and Wayne yells at her in anger. Their mum decides it is time to turn off the computer but Wayne looks at her in rage. ‘How dare she destroy his chances in the game!’ He runs off slamming the door and kicking it in anger.
As Wayne calms down the dopamine in his brain and the adrenaline in his body subside but the stress hormones remain high. This makes it hard for him to think clearly and relax. His sleep that night is restless and the next day he craves for sweet food because the stress hormone cortisol causes his blood sugar levels to fluctuate randomly. It can take weeks before his body, mind and brain are in complete balance again after a significant meltdown.
Wayne’s story could occur in any household and while his behaviour sounds extreme when he is known as a kind and loving child, his reactions are completely normal. Our brains are hardwired to be alert to danger and when danger is real or perceived, the brain switches to a primitive survival mode for protection. Our nervous system is instantly aroused and hormones are released to help us manage the situation. In caveman days this response was to survive attacks from wild animals. Today, this response helps us to manage emergency situations.
However, experiencing the fight or flight response repeatedly, when real survival is not in question can be detrimental, particularly to young, developing brains. Over exposure to the fight or flight state can result in the body having trouble finding balance again and this can lead to chronic stress. According to Dr Victoria Dunckley, a psychologist and author of ‘Reset Your Child’s Brain’, ‘chronic stress is also produced when there is a “mismatch” between fight-or-flight reactions and energy expenditure, as occurs with screen time. Once chronic stress sets in, blood flow is directed away from the higher order thinking part of the brain (the frontal lobe) and toward the more primitive, deeper areas necessary for survival, causing impairment in functioning.’ This means poor decision making and less than appropriate behaviour.
Dr Dunckley believes all parents should know the science behind the changes in their child’s brain when exposed to screen time. Understanding how computer games and video can over stimulate the nervous system and lead to changes in a child’s behaviour, can assist parents in supporting their children and making informed decisions to limit the amount of screen time in their child’s life. Doing so ‘can literally change the course of a child’s life’.
My recommendation is that children should always be supervised when using technology and the amount of time they spend on-line should be strictly limited. Even Steve Jobs who spent his life developing technology had a very strict view in regard to his children using digital devices. His approach to parenting is very similar to that of many parents involved in the tech world. We should follow their example, and strictly monitor our children’s access to computer technology and online worlds.
On another note, our planned Bush Dance for this term has been cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. Thank you to those people who bought tickets to come along. All money will be refunded. We do hope to hold a Bush Dance in the future and will let you know once plans are made.
Best wishes for a fabulous Term Two.
Head of Primary