Victoria Dunckley, M.D., is an award-winning integrative child psychiatrist, and an internationally recognized expert on the impact of screen-time on the developing brain. 

370 Tech Making Kids Moody, Crazy and Lazy?

Dr. Victoria Dunckley

If your child is consistently irritable, has attention issues, or behavior problems, you may want to check in on how much screen time they have. Dr. Victoria Dunkley talks to us about how screen time affects developing brains—acting as a stimulant for kids. Learn about her intervention and how reducing screen time can radically help mental health disorders.

Tech Making Kids Moody, Crazy and Lazy? - Dr. Victoria Dunckley [370]

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*This is an auto-generated transcript*

[00:00:00] Hunter: So Victoria, I'm so happy to talk to you again. I'm excited to talk to you again because we are both gonna be speakers, the parenthood, the Unconference in Abu Dhabi, which is so cool. I can't wait to see there in person, but I'm so fascinated by what you have to say and what you've been studying and learning, and we're gonna get right into that.

But I. You are, you teach about this interaction that we have and our, especially our children have between our screen time and mental health. What was the, what was it that drove you to be so fascinated by this subject?

[00:00:44] Dr Victoria Dunckley: It really started almost 20 years ago now, and it was when I first got outta my training and I was working with a lot of kids with trauma who were either, he either had a history of Neglect or abuse or both.

And tho those kids were, went into fight or flight mode very easily, like a hair trigger response. And I noticed with those kids if they played video games at all, cuz back then it was really mostly just video games that we worried about that they would go into fight or fight very easily, they would be more anxious.

I would see frontal lobe functioning shut down. And conversely, I noticed when we took video games away altogether, not just cut down, but all, took 'em away altogether that they would get unstuck and start to make progress. So I started to implement this intervention of no video games, no screens for four weeks.

And then I started to use it in my private practice too, where the kids didn't necessarily. History of trauma, but they looked like they did, They had, they were all in the state of hyper arousal. And and then I started just sharing it with, friends family members, coworkers, and just different things.

No matter what was going on with the kid, everything seemed to get better. So that's how I got interested in it because I realized if we focused on that issue first, then everything tended to get better no matter what was going on.

[00:02:11] Hunter: It's interesting because you started out with the effects of what happened.

It was, it started out as in some ways, as an experiment, right? Let's like see if this helps. And then you were seeing these effects and so you just started to see these effects then replicated through lots of different populations that were just suffering effects of which, but they didn't even realize it probably at the.

[00:02:39] Dr Victoria Dunckley: Exactly. Yeah. And I think at the time we were working with kids that lived in the group home so we could actually manipulate their environment and track things. And so like the, one of the homes that took the video games out of the home, we noticed the behavior incidents dropped by 30% in the month.

And this was like the highest level of acute care. In the state. So we knew, I knew if it worked with the most difficult kids, like it would probably work with other kids too. And the other population I was seeing at the time were kids with ticks and Tourette syndrome. And same thing, like the parent would come in and say, Oh, I, he's gets on the computer and he starts ticking and they would show me videos of the child having ticks while they were playing on the computer.

And I was just, like the obvious thing don't let him play on the computer. And so I, started to conceptualize what was going on. One was that they were having this hyper arousal effect, like going into that fight or flight mode and staying there. And then also that dopamine was being released because ticks or dopamine related phenomenon.

So I knew that just if you give a kid a stimulant, they can. Developed ticks. So I knew there was some, it was something to do with like the arousal system and also with dopamine. And that's, now we have, there's a lot more research on all of these things, and we know that is exactly what's happening.

But between those two things and they there's some overlap between those two phenomenon. There's, and there's other things going on too, but those two things can explain a lot of the variety of symptoms that we.

[00:04:14] Hunter: So what are these symptoms, What are these, what are the effects that you've seen that some of the negative effects, I guess that screen time.

How it's affecting the body and the brain. And I don't wanna say, and I hesitate almost to ask that question cuz I don't want people to feel bad or feel like you have to get rid of your smartphone right away. Like we, we just want to, I definitely believe like in the middle path, right?

But we wanna understand what's going on. What were the things that how are these kids suffering that changed, that as this was taken away in this fast?

[00:04:51] Dr Victoria Dunckley: Yeah. So what we see, a very typical picture is that the child is irritable. And they can't focus and they're disorganized. They might be unmotivated, having social issues, behavior issues, but it really does vary quite a bit, even between the way boys and girls present.

Girls might be more anxious and boys might act out more, but because of that dopamine effect. We even see things like kids are becoming psychotic. Like they'll start hearing voices or they'll become paranoid, and obviously everyone's very alarmed when something like that happens and they start, throwing around schizophrenia or using antipsychotic drugs.

And then, and really when you just take away the screen stimulation, that goes away. So there's really a lot, and then also obsessive compulsive disorder. That was another kind of really specific thing that used to be, relatively uncommon. And we're seeing that a lot now. It's one of the strongest associations between screen time.

Is O C D like behavior. . And when you just talk to random parents a lot of parents, their kids aren't in treatment necessarily, but a lot of parents do report that their kids are very obsessive or counting things or needing to do things in a certain way. Just obsessive compulsive behavior that I feel is related to screen time, especially from the pandemic.

So I always tell parents I, I don't wanna stress anybody out. I just wanna provide. Information that could provide a possible solution to, whatever is going on with someone's child, and that there's a way to do things in a certain order to reset the nervous system and then figure out how much screen time a child can tolerate.

[00:06:41] Hunter: All right, so the screen time is what I'm gathering is that the screen time is acting like a stimulant. Yes. And so it's giving the child energy, yet they're sitting still. And Exactly. And so this, in some ways, like this energy has to go somewhere. So it's going into irritability. It's going into ocd.

It may go into, what else? How does it affect. That's exactly right. Yes. Our behavior and social skills, right? Like we have a lot of, And would this be something that would affect adhd? Cuz I imagine there's like hyperactive, right? That's energy that's going into those kids,

[00:07:15] Dr Victoria Dunckley: Exactly. So it is like trapped energy. So you're getting you're getting this fight or flight mode that's being triggered and then it's combined with being sedentary. The normal reaction when you get, when you have fight or flight is that you're either fighting or running away. There's a big discharge of physical energy or freeze though, right?

[00:07:36] Hunter: Freeze is one or

[00:07:38] Dr Victoria Dunckley: freeze. Yes. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So freeze you. Obviously they're frozen, they're not it's another survival mechanism. If you're in, if you're frozen all the time, that energy's not being discharged either. Okay? Yeah. But typically if we just look at fight or flight, it's the energy should be discharged.

You're in some kind of situation or even if you freeze, like you tend to run away after that and so that you're ready to survive. So the energy is getting trapped and that's exactly. Perfect way to put it is that it's trapped and there's no way to discharge it. And we know that even if kids are getting exercise obviously that helps.

But if they're still sedentary with this combination of fight or flight and being sedentary, at the same time, you do see some of this trapped energy. So some kids it comes out as movements, like ticks or they're just very restless or more hyper or impulsive. Other kids because. Hyper arousal kind of shuts down the frontal lobe.

They can't focus. And also because they, their nervous system has been bombarded by all this artificial stimulation that kind of depletes your mental reserves. So kids, even kids that don't have ADHD might look like they have adhd. So kids really do present in different ways. Other kids might, when they get that trapped energy, they might physically act out.

They might be hitting more or using, running, using their body, running into other kids, more things like that. Cause they're literally trying to discharge that energy. So it does present in different ways. Other kids have rages, other kids are just highly anxious and they might withdraw.

But it's all kind of a reaction to this bombardment of the nervous system. Wow.

[00:09:23] Hunter: Okay. So I imagine the listener you may be thinking, Oh, this thing my child is dealing with, this thing my child is dealing with. I see my neighbor's child is dealing with this. This is all, these are a lot of symptoms that are, a lot of kids are dealing with.

Across the board. Is this kind of, is the, are these things that have Increased as screen time has increased over time? Is that something you can, that there have been studies about? Yes,

[00:09:52] Dr Victoria Dunckley: absolutely. We know that. Even before the pandemic, we know that. Depression and anxiety rates were, had been, had increased about 20% across the board in children.

We already were in the midst of a mental health crisis before the pandemic, and then since the pandemic. And we know those things were also related to screen time. So the more screen time someone has, the more likely they are to have some kind of mental health issue or developmental delay, things like that.

So we already knew there was an association and then the pandemic only buttresses this argument. So we know that the kids that had the most screen time over during the pandemic had the most weight gain, have the most issues with learning in school and have more mood and anxiety issues.

[00:10:43] Hunter: Honestly, I could actually see that with my own child, like in my 12 year old who did not adjust to online learning well at all and would sit in the corner. We didn't want her to sit in the corner. She was watching a lot of YouTube. We knew this, it was like, we want to get her off. We had to turn, it was just, and she was struggling with anxiety and she was struggling with, A lot of the things you listed there.

I could see all of that happening, and it is all improved since going back to school in person and having a more balanced schedule. It's amazing. Yes. But for some kids obviously it's like kids are being sent to you, a child psychologist. There's being sent to other child psych psychologists to get.

Maybe to get treatment or drugs to help with this kind of thing, but you're, you advise and you talk about it in your book that reset your brain a digital fast. So tell us about this and how you talked about how it came about, but how does that work? What goes on with the digital fast?

[00:11:52] Dr Victoria Dunckley: So basically, we wanna make sure the parent is on board, so they have to be they don't have to be convinced that this, that screen time is gonna. Is the cause of all these issues or that removing is gonna re, solve all their problems, but they just have to be convinced enough that it's worth trying.

So if they understand the hyper arousal effects, the effects on dopamine, the effects on sleep this trapped energy concept, if they, when they kind and then they can tie it into what they're seeing with their child. Then they understand enough to be like, Okay, I know this might seem hard, but I'm gonna do it anyway.

So we, what we do is we make a very specific plan. We figure out a start date. We do a screen sweep, set, the removing all the unnecessary devices in the home, in the car. You have to think through the child's day where they're gonna go. Are they going the sitter, are they gonna, the aunt's house and.

Do we have to deal with school? All those things. And then we plan out what this child's schedule will be. So part of the plan, especially during the first week, is to structure everything but also to spend time together. So we wanna make sure that there's one on one time, cuz you're actually competing with the bonding tracks are competing with.

The tracks, the addiction or reward pathways that are hijacked by screens. Oh, so you're actually rewiring the brain and the more that you, the bond, the stronger the bonding is, the more protected the child is for tech addiction in general, and other addictions too. So we talk about, not just family time, but one on one time is really important for the eye contact regulating the nervous system.

And also helping children not feel lost, cuz they really feel like this existential angst, especially, pre-teens and teenagers if they don't have their phone. So we have to make sure that they feel that connection to the parent. But really just the first week you have to really plan out kind of day by day, hour by hour.

And then, but then after that they, because they're not tethered to screens anymore, they naturally start to. Self initiate play, they start doing more creative things. They start going outside on their own. You can see them like visibly more relaxed. They're in a better mood. They talk more, they're smiling more.

So really even with teenagers, by the second week, you start to see a big difference. And then we just, we do it for at least four weeks. Some kids it's even longer. For example, if they're really, really addicted or the depression's super severe or the child's on the spectrum. Sometimes we do it longer and then we see how it goes.

We wanna make sure their system is reset and we track certain things like, are they sleeping through, Are they sleeping longer through the night? Are they getting their homework done faster? So we try to track something that's objective. And see how they're feeling. And then from there we, we can, you can try to reintroduce if that's what you wanna do in very small amounts.

And then we keep tracking things to make sure the child doesn't fall off track.

[00:15:11] Hunter: Wow. So I imagine that people have a lot of, they have a lot of a hard time with this, but I, what I'm hearing is that you're getting to you wanna see what is the child's mood what is their behavior like, are they having all these issues without the screen time? Like you're seeing, okay, is this something that will help?

Do you find there, there must be kids of course, that have issues. Even when you get to that baseline that you may wanna treat and help. But I guess, I don't know. What do you see as far as in your practice as far as people having that this reset be a solution for them?

Or, how many, I guess I'm curious about the percentage.

[00:15:56] Dr Victoria Dunckley: About how many, You mean respond to it or? Yeah. , it's. Virtually everybody does. If they don't it's usually because something's gotten missed. There's, they have a device under their bed, or an old laptop or an old phone or something like that.

Or they're u you know, using a friend's phone or something like that. So we do troubleshooting to see if something got missed. And then, Sometimes there's another addiction going on, like with teenagers, sometimes they're, say they're smoking pot or something like that. And so there's still like a significant something that something's in place that's really bothering them.

But even most, I would say at least 80% of the time, they're gonna get at least 50% better. And then you could see what's left, is there other issues going on at school? Of course there can still be some depression, anxiety, things like that. But you just see such a huge improvement that I always start with it and I always try to talk parents into it and I always revisit it.

And sometimes it might take parents, two years before they're ready to do it. , but it's just such a worthwhile intervention. That I just always, revisit. And sometimes people will do the fast and then they'll go a year or so, and then they'll, they're like, Hey, we're off track again, and we're seeing all the same things again, and then they do another fast.

So it's, it's every family has a learning curve and a lot of times the screens come in too soon, too much and too soon, and then we just have to adjust. Sometimes parents say the fast was the easy part in, living afterwards it's

[00:17:34] Hunter: harder.

Oh yeah. How do you reintegrate into daily life? I'm curious about with teens. What about connection? That connection with their peers, with their , you know that, that social connection, cuz I know they. Like when I was a teen, you could go to the park and there might be other people there.

You could call people on the phone and not get sidetracked into whatever. But like right now, like my, I know my daughters communicate via texts, like that's how they communicate via texts. Or my friend, my one daughter, her best friend is a half an hour away. So they play Minecraft together and they're talking on the phone like while they do that.

But So what about that social connection for teens? Isn't that an important. .

[00:18:16] Dr Victoria Dunckley: That's one of the, that's one of the reasons why parents have a hard time doing it because of that exact reason. But what we see when kids, when, families are actually finally do it, is they work around it in some way.

Like I've seen some teens, start calling each other on the phone. I've had other families. Just say, Hey, this is what we're doing. You have to text my mom if you want us to set up something. So they still end up like setting up social activities, but they're, but not, they're not texting, they're not on social media.

And then inevitably, and also, if the parent is spending time with the teen during that, if the parent is absent, it's not gonna work. The teen's just gonna rebel and the parent if the parent commits to doing it too. That helps the teen feel like, you know this, you're doing it as a family unit and everyone's in this together.

But inevitably the teen feels some kind of relief because especially with social media, like there's so much pressure just to keep up and figure out what everyone's doing and tracking your likes and posting and streaks and, all that stuff and all that, they're forced.

They're forced to have it be gone. And they, and then they say, Wow, I feel so much better. And, and then, and they feel like because the parent took it away, they don't feel, that's like an acceptable reason, socially to not have their phone or whatever. So I think and also if you frame it as let's do this for four weeks and see what happens.

I know it's gonna be hard. You're gonna feel. Anxious, but I'm gonna, we're gonna get through it together and these are the things that we can do as fun things to offset like how, how you're feeling right now. And it's good for the teen to the child or the teen to brainstorm with the parents about what they can do.

Do they wanna go to a baseball game? Do they wanna do this thing? And just try to think of things that can be done together that may maybe are getting not done. Cuz everyone's so busy. So there's ways to work around it, but I, I'm not gonna lie, it's definitely harder to convince a family with a teenager to do this.

I think the people who end up doing it they're really seeing their child suffering, like either a lot of anxiety, a lot of depression, so they're more motivated. Okay.

[00:20:39] Hunter: And or, maybe their kids are younger and they have more,

[00:20:44] Dr Victoria Dunckley: the younger ones to step in easier, more easily.

[00:20:47] Hunter: Yes, this is what we're doing.

Exactly. Yes. That would not fly in my house. What is so then let's think about the idea of let's imagine like we've gone through this fast and things like that, but what about then. Living afterwards, right? , Or what about if you have a young child and you're gonna wanna, you wanna avoid this?

Like having to go through this difficulty and having all these negative effects maybe in the first place. I'm curious about that piece of how do we live comfortably with this, I can see, a lot of us maybe taking a month or two to fast. And I would love that. And I imagine I would enjoy that a lot actually.

But then I'd wanna, watch some movies and , I'd wanna see the new, Game of Thrones show, and I don't know, there, there might be some, might, might wanna reconnect with their friends on doing something like Minecraft or something like that. So what are the, maybe what are the kinds of, you talk a little bit about the different kinds of content and how they have effects.

But maybe we could talk about that. Like what are some of the, what are some of the healthier ways? Are there healthy ways to have kids in screen time mix, or are they all doomed to, to be irritable and ADHD and depressed if we're letting them, have screen time?

[00:22:21] Dr Victoria Dunckley: Yeah. It's a million dollar question I think, some people say, like you look at the three C's, are they just consuming? Are they creating or they, or are they connecting? So obviously they're creating and connecting with others. People view, and there's some research showing that it's not as problematic, shall we say.

. But it really depends on what's going on with the child. So if a child. Connecting or playing Minecraft, let's say. I have many kids in my practice. Minecraft is one of the most addictive games, so I probably have more Minecraft addicts in my practice than any other game because it's insidious and it sneaks up on you and if parents think it's harmless.

So I think. All of those things can still be addictive. Or I have another another young adult who's he's writing a novel and he's been writing it for years, but he's also completely socially isolated. And so if you just hear Oh, he's writing a novel that's, he's creating something that sounds healthy.

But then when you look at the way his life is and the dysfunction that's going on, you can see it's still a problem. If he got away from that, he probably would be forced to socialize. So it really depends on what's going on with the individual child and not just what they're doing, but how much I, to me, how much they're doing is a bigger factor.

It's a bigger factor in terms of predicting tech addiction down the line. So we know that tech addiction is related to. Daily screen time and also lifetime screen time. So the earlier it's introduced, that's why screens in school is like a big thorn in my side. The earlier it's introduced, the more likely they are to get addicted later.

And also just o obviously like just a time factor, The more that they're on their screens, the less time they have for exercise and sports and music and face to face socializing things like. So I think to me I look at more how much time they're doing it and if they have a phone, things like that.

When kids get, there's the two devices that I see where things take a turn or when an iPad comes into a home because it's so easy and you can throw it in your purse and the kid can walk around with it and everything. And then, and there's all these apps and stuff that parents think are educational.

The iPad coming into the home and then. A child getting a smartphone. So if you were like to do a timeline, those are the two things that we see, can cause a problem. Maybe not right away, but if you look six months a year down the line and then you know, there's an issue.

[00:25:19] Hunter: I could see that we have neighbors that we carpool with to the bus.

And my daughter's 12. She doesn't have a phone, but their son's eight or something. And has a smartphone. Has a smartphone. And he's like playing video games, like while standing in the car or standing at the bus stop. And that's a time that would've been maybe a social time. Maybe it's socially awkward, but then it's so weird because.

As parents what are we modeling too? , I got really frustrated one day when I went to pick up at the bus stop and I was running late and it's, we have to drive to this kind of, bus stop and all the parents are in their own cars. By themselves probably looking at their phones.

And I'm just so frustrated what are we modeling for our kids that we can't, It's like too awkward to have awkward conversation with other parents in your school that you'd rather talk to that, I don't know. It's so frustrating.

[00:26:27] Dr Victoria Dunckley: Yeah. Sorry. I'm just, that's definitely, Yeah, it's, that's, it's a huge issue and I think, when we, when parents start suggesting.

We're gonna do a screen fast with their kids immediately the kids are like what about you? You're on your phone all the time. Dad's on the computer all the time, or whatever. So those things definitely do matter. And then, but I, it's, so it's really important for parents to say, I know I need to work on it too.

And not to get defensive and say, Cuz every parent says I'm working, I'm doing this for work, or I'm doing something for you, or whatever. So I think. It's about creating habits so that you're not on a device when you're in your child's presence, ideally, ever. At least for certain times that you block off and you consider that time sacred.

Modeling definitely helps, but I think like the situation you were talking about, like I think it's okay to say Okay, this in my car, we're not gonna be. There's no devices in my car. That's the rule in my car. And you guys just need to talk, and so I think, Oh, wow,

And I think just hearing from parents and Par, friends who have teenagers and stuff, I feel like it's getting a little bit more acceptable to be that parent to put that, puts their foot down and says this is what we're doing, and I don't think other parents are. I think other parents are welcoming it more.

Like they, they're like, Oh, that's great. I agree with that. Of course there still might be parents that take offense or something, but I just think even though everything's, it's more entrenched than ever. I also feel like there's a growing swell of parents who are having those kind of limits or saying when we do play dates, we're not using any phones or we're not gaming, we're not gaming today, or whatever, I do think there's more parents are doing that.

And I also think there's more parents who are really delaying giving their kids a smartphone. And I'm seeing kids here in LA that are just getting a flip phone or a dumb phone and that's it. And they just, and then all the other moms are like, I'm gonna do that too. So I am seeing those kind of trends go.

[00:28:42] Hunter: And there's hope. I would say ,

so dear listener, we can be trendsetters. I think those limits that Dr. Dunkley is suggesting are are maybe great ones that, you and I can do together. Like in this play day, we're not having electronics. And in this car, , that's gonna be my my next drive in this car, , we don't use. Use phones while we're, play phone games while we're driving or whatever it is. And and I've done that like even with the teens there were a bunch of ki when my daughter was, I guess she was still 15 or 14, they, I took all the, these, all this group of girls to go thrifting and we had these great time.

They came back, we're gonna get snacks, and I'm just in the kitchen. I'm hearing them in living room and then I, they're all like on their phones. They all got out their phones and then we're like showing each other things. So they're being social on their phones a little bit. But I had to come in and be like, Listen.

You guys are here in real life together. Why don't you guys like, do something together? And then they did, they put down the phones and they played Clue or something like that. Like they, they did have a good time, but it wasn't their first, like their first instinct was like, Oh, we're having a moment of downtime. So this is what we do. , right?

[00:30:09] Dr Victoria Dunckley: Yes. And I think the default mode is to go to their phone for everybody. . Yeah. So I think when you do have to set that limit, and I feel like the kids are often receptive, yeah. They were, I feel like at some level they know what's going on too.

At some level. They know what's going on with their own body. Of course they're gonna push back and kids who are really addicted are really gonna be defensive about it. But even those kids at some level, they know. So I always. Think that when you say that to them, you're, when you make that limit with the kids, at some level they're grateful and they're saying thank you, and then, and they know that they have fun afterwards and they can reflect on it and say, Yeah, that was nice to just not have our phones and do that.

[00:30:54] Hunter: Okay. See, I wanna play devil's advocate here a little bit because some people are listening and Yes, this sounds amazing. But what about, I remember when my daughter was really young, like two and a half. I was like, She should not have any screen time at all. My husband was like, she, this is a technological world.

She should be tech savvy to do some things and there are some things you can learn from and things like that. So what about that idea that kids who are, have you. Have may have limited exposure to electronics, to games. And there, there were some things that I thought were neat and some things I didn't think were so neat.

But what about that argument that those kids are gonna be left behind?

[00:31:36] Dr Victoria Dunckley: Great question. So first of all, I've never seen a kid who wasn't tech savvy, even if they. Kept away from smartphones and, social media and gaming and everything. The minute they got a smartphone, they immediately knew how to use it.

I just think it's impossible to not have some exposure, especially with school. So I really don't see that happening. And also, let's just say hypothetically, if a child had no screen exposure, that all the technology is really supposed to. Like dummy proof. It's supposed to be intuitive, easy to learn, and people always say, Oh, older people can't learn it.

But I have seen older people, adapt to it. Technology too, and a young person adapts very quickly. They can learn it very fast. So it's much more important. to have the frontal lobe working optimally because the front, like frontal lobe health and the how integrated the frontal lobe is what determines how well a person does in life.

How they, how well they do in school. Are they able to have good friendships with intimacy? Are they able to have a romantic relationship? So it really determines their overall trajectory in life. So even in theory, if they did fall behind in the tech arena you wanna put your money where the frontal lobe is.

And the best way to keep the frontal lobe the most resilience and the most integrated is by minimizing. Screen exposure as much as possible. And that includes, and we have a lot of like we know that a lot of Silicon Valley families send their kids to low tech schools and they may end up in a tech field.

And we, I see that here in Los Angeles too. There's a Waldorf school here that it's actually a public school and they, they don't have any technology until age 12. And those kids, a lot of those kids, when they track where they end up, some of them do end up in the. The tech world.

So there's just it's more important that the brain functions optimally than to teach, shove things down their throat as soon as they can learn 'em. Cuz just because the kids can learn something at a certain age doesn't mean they should, a 12 year old could drive a car, but we don't let them because they have poor impulse control.


[00:34:11] Hunter: Yeah, I remember that from my 14 year old friend who drove her car. got in trouble with that. Okay. But what about, again, devil's advocate, what about there are positive findings for video games, right? There are studies that show that they can help with coordination and attention, right?

And what about that piece?

[00:34:33] Dr Victoria Dunckley: Okay, so if you really look at the research. Like playing video games teaches you how to play video games, so you might be better when they test the person. They might be better at I hand coordination on a screen. , but their I hand, but it doesn't translate to real life.

So it doesn't mean they could catch a baseball or, move around on a tennis court better than a child who was actually doing those things. So they always point to this one study about and by the way, all. I hand coordination studies are that the research itself is done on a screen. Huh.

But they always point to this one study about surgeons who played video games are better surgeons cuz they're looking through at a screen well. Those surgeons, I guarantee you they did not grow up playing video games at the same rate that we have now. And as someone who gets through medical school and then goes into surgery is gonna have a pretty well integrated frontal lobe.

You can't make it all the way through that without having a high functioning frontal lobe. So to point to surges and say, and extrapolate to the rest of the population is not, it's not good science. The other thing was, is focus. The, when they look at the focus studies they're comparing video game, regular video games to these other video games.

They're not comparing, I wish they would compare it to being screen free together. So when they say that it helps attention, like there's a new I think it's approved for the treatment of adhd. When you look at the research for how. That treatment got approved. They were comparing it to other video games and showing this child's attention was better and their impulse control was better compared to playing this other game.

Oh, so that's all they had to prove that it was superior to playing another video game.

[00:36:32] Hunter: Okay. All right. So knowing all this, and ask if

[00:36:36] Dr Victoria Dunckley: you sorry. No please. But if you ask any teacher, One of the reason, one of the things when I first got into this was also because I happened to have a lot of teachers in my patients whose parents were teachers.

, and they all were saying the same thing, like in the classroom, they could pick out who played video games and who didn't. Like the kids who played video games were just spacey. They weren't getting their work done and they could just, without even looking at their work, they could just go through the room and say, he plays, she plays, they could tell.

So the attention thing, we know there's a lot more research. There's a mountain of research showing that gaming and screen time in general fractures attention even, within, And some of the research shows that within 11 or 12 minutes, The attention is already worse. Wow. Yeah, so the, the advocates of gaming and things like that, they'll always point to this.

There's only like a couple researchers that everybody quotes for the attention piece and the I hand coordination. And then the other 95% of the research is showing the exact opposite.

[00:37:45] Hunter: Okay. All right. So knowing all this knowing that's affect affecting the brain, it's affecting the body, it's affecting behavior, it's maybe even, it's clearly lending to, psycho.

How can I say this for Sam? I need me to edit those psychiatric issues. Psychiatric issues, That's what I wanna say. 40 20. So knowing that screen time is having this incredible negative effect on brain body behavior, it's lending to psychiatric issues. You have a young son, right? Do you, how is this change shifting and changing all this knowledge, The what are you doing to limit his screen time and also have him be part of the world?

[00:38:36] Dr Victoria Dunckley: Huh. I think what I'm actually doing now is I'm stricter than I even thought I was gonna be because my son is sensitive, so he he's sensitive even to like toys that have buttons. So I started to just realize that anything that was artificial, he, it made him dysregulated. If he was in the natural world and he was outside and he had toys that made him, think and move and create.

He's like a different child. He's, he doesn't have any screen time on a, any kind of regular basis. Once in a while he gets to watch sports with his dad or a documentary. I'll let him watch 10 or 20 minutes here and there, but it's very little. And even during the pandemic, I noticed.

With Zoom, he would press his body back against me or he'd fall on the floor. And I was hearing the same thing from parents. Like they would say my child starts rolling on the floor. And I feel like that's cuz they're trying to, they are feeling bombarded and they're trying to like ground themselves, like literally So I know other families, even at a young age, they can do FaceTime.

And my son, I could tell he's, as he's getting a little bit older, he can do some FaceTime without losing his mind. , how old is he? But he's five now. But that's and I, I just, everybody around me knows like what I do and a lot of parents are really open to talk. I don't talk about it.

I let other people bring it up to me. But a lot of parents are curious about it, and then they see things in their own home and they ask about it. And then in terms of school my son isn't a public school, but we did a lot of touring and researching and. And we picked a school that had very, that has no screen time, at least until the upper grades.

, even though it's a steam school, but they just they do things a little bit differently. So they want every, it's a constructivist approach, so they want everything very hands on and they let the kids move around and they're outside a lot and things like that. So yeah. But I could see, most of the schools we toured.

It was devices even in kindergarten. So it's depressing.

[00:41:03] Hunter: It is depressing. In kindergarten they should be, I hate playing. They should be playing dress up and playing outside

[00:41:12] Dr Victoria Dunckley: In kindergarten. Yes. And even at first to second grade, like there's a really good school district. It's a couple miles from here that we planned to go to until I saw what was going on.

But the second graders there were saying, A week at, in second grade, they were getting an hour a day on a Chromebook or I think it was a Chromebook or iPad or both. And and I remember the little girl saying, that she hated it and she felt like it, whatever they were, whatever apps they were using, she felt were stupid.

And and the mom said an hour's not very much. And I thought, yes, it is , especially when you start multiplying all those hours and adding them up. That's all time that could be spent moving. Or, doing what we know helps development. Just like I was saying earlier, just because they can.

Get on, log on and use an app and click away. Doesn't mean they should be doing it. Doesn't mean it's that is superior to having a human being interaction or even just playing during that time. Yeah,

[00:42:12] Hunter: I guess teaching wise, like in schools, it's easier if all the kids are typing and submitting their things like that, right?

Like it's easier from the teacher's point of view to yes, to scan and read and all of those things, but. It's an experiment, that we've been doing for the last maybe 10 years or so, like on kids where we, adults are making this assumption that it's equivalent. But you're saying that it's really not equivalent and there's

[00:42:43] Dr Victoria Dunckley: dangers.

Yes. And the ed tech companies are saying that it's equivalent or superior even. And, there's a, there's entire organizations that focus on this one topic. But I think, then the school spends money on it. And then if, even if they see it's not working, of course they wanna make it work, so it's a problem. Even at the, even at my son's school, at the beginning of school, they were, they, I walked him to his class one day and they were showing the kids a video, a YouTube video about, I forget what the name of it, but some of the other kids knew what it was, but it was, alphabet and numbers coming up on the screen.

I was like, Why are they doing that? Like the kids could just be, the teacher was like it's just a chaotic time and I'm trying to handle all these kids. And it turned out like all the classes were doing it, but a bunch of the parents were like, Wait, why are you showing that video?

Most of the parents were just saying what's the purpose of that? But I think because enough parents asked about it, they stopped doing it. So that was like a good cuz I, I'm always telling parents always use your voice if you think something's going on at school. And if other, if a group of parents says something together, that helps too.

Cuz there's a lot of excessive stuff going on in schools that they could get rid of too. It's not just, doing their work on that laptop. There's sometimes they're rewarding kids with iPad time or letting them, Get on their phone if they get their work done or things like that, that, or they're showing videos unnecessarily.

There's just a lot going on in the schools that could be done away with.

[00:44:28] Hunter: Yeah. It's so normalized in our culture. . Yeah. It's interesting. It's hard to, I think it's hard to walk the middle path with this, I guess from my own point of view, like I feel. Really good about the limits I set for my kids when they were younger.

I feel like that shaped a pattern, and it's much harder to go backwards than it is to go Yes. Than to restrict. As kids we're older, like we set some things in patterns, like this listener knows we've done a screen free Sunday forever and ever. So we have a reset day and we have limits on time and.

Those things. But then now, But it's interesting now because with my jars being 15 and 12, we're giving them more freedom for them to feel what works, you know what works for them. And I think I, maybe we gave my oldest one a smartphone too soon, but at the same time, maybe she's a unique kid. She actually had.

Talk on her phone for a little while, and so my husband got it for a little while to experience it. He felt like it was breaking his brain, but then she took it off. She didn't like how it felt. She didn't like how it felt, and she took it off her phone. Who knows. Maybe the idea, the, just having these discussions or having it be in, I'm I try to be they think I'm like ridiculously anti screen, but I, the truth is that I try to be.

Open to, and curious and not, so we can have the conversations about what's going on. I don't know, it's, I think it's a hard path to walk as they get older because it's a very messy path, right? Cause some kids have a phone at eight and and then, Some kids don't. And some people, some kids were raised in a stroller watching an iPad and some kids are like, homeschooled and have been in the forest all their lives.

Who knows?

[00:46:36] Dr Victoria Dunckley: I know. But I think, sometimes I hear, I get emails from people and they I get an email when their kid was in high school and was not doing well And then they email me again like years later and the kids in college and I always say What do you think made the difference?

Cuz the kid, got addicted and then came back out the other side. And a lot of 'em say, talking about it till I wanted to beat my head against the wall , like they just talked about it over and over. It's , alcohol and drug use, like you, you do have to keep having those conversations and it does make a difference.

We know that research shows it does make a difference to keep talking about it, and also what you were saying about like how your daughter like was able to reflect on how she felt and then made a change. That in itself is a sign. Good functioning frontal lobe. But that is also the same thing that somebody wouldn't, a child might not have if they're in a state of hyper arousal.

Yeah. Or they're just maybe have other struggles in general, like if they have ADHD or something. So that's like a, the ability to reflect and then, Look ahead and think about what, how you feel, how your body feels, and then make a change. All of that is frontal lobe stuff. So obviously ideally we, we want kids to be able to do that.

But not every kid will be able to, so that's why sometimes, when parents say they're teenagers, they have to make some decisions and. I just say, if your child was doing drugs, you wouldn't let them make a decision. You would step in there and say, Hey, this is not good for you.

I'm gonna take over right now. So I think we, we do have to, it is different from drugs because we obviously use it in an everyday way. But it is like drugs because it does cause addiction. And we know from brain imaging studies that it causes very similar damage to drug and alcohol use, and it causes damage in the frontal lobe and it causes the connections to be more spotty.

It thins the Corte, like all this atrophy happens, so it's very it's a real thing. So we have to be really careful and I always, even with young adults, sometimes I have the parent just say, Look, you're still living in my house. This is what's gonna happen if you wanna stay, if you wanna continue to live here, we're gonna do this fast.

And then, and this is all the things you have to do to live here. So I think we have to realize that their brains are not, Yet ready to manage these things. It's unrealistic. And plus there's like a whole industry of, there's a whole like departments of engineers who are designing these things to be addictive.

So it's not just like the, it's like the devices themselves. And they constantly want the user coming back. Yeah. So early on, It might be, you might get on TikTok and say, Oh, this doesn't feel good. But if they, it can be insidious, like they might like it at first and just do it here and there, and then after a while they can't get themselves away because they're hooked.

[00:49:54] Hunter: It's that attention economy. Yes. . I think this is really important. I'm so glad you've come on to talk about this and in fact, actually I feel like I feel hopeful because there's so many things that this simple side effect free. Maybe not so simple, but in some ways very simple side effect.

Free intervention that can happen like almost right away can have incredible effects. I think that's very hopeful for a lot of parents who, may have kids suffering from, lack of focus and behavior issues and irritability and OCD and all of those things that you listed that can happen.

, thank you so much. For coming on the Mindful mom of podcast. I appreciate it so much. Victoria Dunkley's book is Reset Your Brain and where can people find out about you and what you're doing and continue the conversation if they want to.

[00:50:53] Dr Victoria Dunckley: It's. Just to clarify, it's reset your child's brain.

Oh, sorry. Thank you. And . That's okay. . And my website is dr and there's a free email course at dr games. And I also have a blog on Psychology Today called Mental Wealth. And there's 50 articles that have to do with screen time on there. So that's also a big can serve as a big resource for people for different things like ticks or, mood instability, things like,

[00:51:25] Hunter: Again, thanks so much.

I really appreciate your time and I look forward to seeing you in person and it's been really lovely to talk. Thank you. That was a great talk today. Thanks, Hunter. Catch new episodes of the Mindful Mama podcast and other free resources, including the Mindful Mama Guide at Mindful Mama mentor dot.

You can listen to every back catalog episode, including interviews with Dr. Dan Siegel, Yala Vanzant, Sharon Salberg, and get meditations. Join our private Facebook group and more. Go to Mindful Mama Now, I'll see you there.

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