Durable Human (2 book series)

Household Stress Often Led to Problematic Media Use by Kids in Pandemic

boy stares at screen during screentime in pandemic

Stress in the household was a main reason why many children developed problematic media use during the height of the pandemic. Household screen rules had little effect on media usage, according to new research.  

Emily Kroshus had three children under age 6 at the time of the pandemic lockdowns. She remembers how she coped with online work meetings. “I would turn to screens.” And not to co-view and discuss content with her children. “It’s more like: ‘please, can I hypnotize you for an hour?’” 

“I’m not proud of that,” the child behavioral researcher recalls. “And I don’t think I’m alone.” 

Curiosity prompted Kroshus and her lab at Seattle Children’s Research Institute to survey other parents in the fall of 2020. A diverse group of 1,000 American families responded, each with at least one child between the age of 6 and 17.

According to the survey results published in the journal Pediatrics, one in three children displayed “problematic media use,” which Kroshus describes as “the child is unwilling or unable to stop using media.” 

About one in three households had rules around media use, such as keeping devices out of the bedroom at night and not bringing screens to meals. But did those rules prevent problematic use of phones, laptops and computers? Continue reading

A Mother Speaks about Her Toddler, Screentime, and Virtual Autism

Toddler plays alone on tablet

Robin thought she was “being Super Mom” as she made nice dinners and tidied her midwestern U.S. home, with her toddler son quietly sitting nearby watching made-for-babies TV. She didn’t know that by letting him watch so often, he was developing the newly described condition termed “Virtual Autism.”

Took a While to Realize

For weeks, Robin rationalized the changes she saw, but finally had to admit something was wrong. Her formerly happy, lively 14-month-old had stopped having eye contact, no longer said words, and began to display hand-flapping, spinning and other autistic-like symptoms.

“The big one was,” she recalls, “he had stopped answering to his name.” Continue reading

3 Resilience Deposits a Day Help Push Stress Away

Woman with eyes closed sits in meditation pose behind laptop sitting on desk.

Spending a few minutes outdoors, chatting, and taking a nap are simple but powerful ways to fight stress, which has surged in the pandemic.     

Between 2019 and 2020, stress levels of 8 in 10 adults shot upward, according to a Stress in America Harris Poll sponsored by the American Psychological Association. Family pressures have led to record levels of depression and anxiety among children, reports JAMA Pediatrics.

But neither adults nor kids need to grimace and bear it. There are lab-proven ways to cope.

Short-term versus Chronic Stress

Stress comes in two basics forms: short-term and longer-lasting, or “chronic.”  

Short-term stress tends to go away. Like when your alarm goes off in the morning. You’re shocked at first, but once you get up and move on, you forget that initial jolt.  

Longer-lasting stress is caused by longer-term life problems, such as financial strife or difficult relationships.

Left unchecked, stress can add up to major health problems. When experienced over a long period of time, it has been linked with heart disease, diabetes and the spread of cancer, as well as other chronic diseases. And physiological responses can start young,” according to the journal Nature.

Yet, Nature concludes, “some people are remarkably resilient to these and other stressors.”

The X-factor is attitude.

Continue reading

Learning about Dopamine May Help Kids and Adults Manage Screentime

Teen boy strums guitar

Understanding how dopamine works in the brain may help people achieve better life balance, especially when it comes to using digital devices.

That’s according to Clifford Sussman, M.D., a child and adolescent psychiatrist based in Washington, D.C. who treats children for compulsive video game use and other screen-related mental health disorders.

Using Sussman’s concept, parents have a new way to talk with their kids about digital activities without needing the words “no”, “don’t”, or “addiction.”

What is dopamine?

Dopamine is the chemical released in your brain when you do something exciting that has an instant payoff, such as playing a thrilling video game, seeing your likes on Instagram, or clicking BUY on a nice pair of shoes. We all love that tingly feeling.

“The problem comes when you’re doing this for a really long time. Let’s say hours or even days,” says Dr. Sussman.

Over time, the constant flow of dopamine drives a person to want to repeat the exciting activity. A residual effect is feeling bored when doing other things, including academics.  

“When kids binge all weekend on games, they will be more bored of their classes on Monday,” Dr. Sussman observed in this webinar for the Ross Center.

High Versus Low Dopamine Activities

To achieve a balance, Dr. Sussman suggests alternating high-producing dopamine activities (HDAs) with activities that have little dopamine kick.   Continue reading

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