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How Smartphones Are Affecting The Mind And Body Of Your Children

How Smartphones Are Affecting The Mind And Body Of Your Children

If you’re a parent of young children living in the mobile internet era, it’s hard to resist not handing over a smartphone or a tablet to keep kids entertained when you really need them to be the sweet, quiet little angels you wish that they could be pretty much all the time. There are all sorts of great video and gaming apps designed for kids anyway, so why not?

It’s not the kid-friendly content you have to worry about – it’s the effect of excessive amounts of screen time your kids are being exposed to on a regular basis. The younger they are while their brains are developing rapidly, the more adverse the effects may be. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, parents of infants and children under the age of two should avoid exposing them to smartphones, tablets, computers, televisions and anything else that serves to entertain people through a screen.

Children who are older may benefit from apps and mobile websites that promote learning, but there’s no question that frequent and prolonged use of mobile devices may create problems in normal, healthy development and everyday habits. Here are some of the things you need to be aware of if you’re a parent who lets their kids play with smartphones or tablets.

They contribute to sleep deprivation.

Any form of media that has a screen emits blue light that tends to mimic daylight in a way that confuses our internal body clocks. Both children and adults rely on their circadian rhythms to regulate their sleep cycles, but when their eyes are exposed to this blue light too late in the evening or at night, it sends a signal to the brain that it’s daytime and that it’s time to stay awake. One study found that infants and toddlers who watched TV were more likely to experience irregular sleep patterns.

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If your child has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, make sure you enforce a strict cut-off time for smartphones and other media anywhere from 1 to 3 hours before bedtime. Instead, use this time to read a book to your child or have them read it to you aloud.

They promote sedentary behavior, which contributes to obesity.

Using a smartphone, a tablet or any other form of screen media generally requires a lot of sitting in order to pay attention to it. All children are energetic and have a natural urge to run, jump, skip, climb, dance and play, which helps them develop a strong and healthy heart, lungs, bones, muscles and brain. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that children and adolescents require a minimum of one hour of physical activity every day, and that one-hour minimum should involve moderate-intensity to vigorous-intensity activity.

To keep your kids from spending excessive amounts of time hanging around the house with nothing to do but sit around and entertain themselves with mobile devices, try enrolling them in extra-curricular activities like gymnastics, swimming, baseball or soccer to encourage them to get moving. Or to save some money, you could even just make a habit out of taking regular trips to the park, setting up a swing set in the backyard, scheduling regular play dates with friends or getting your kids to help out with chores around the house.

They can cause eye discomfort.

Although it’s not currently yet known whether staring at screens for long periods of time can cause any permanent damage to the eyes, it certainly is known to cause discomfort. Both children and adults can experience it, but children may be more susceptible to developing symptoms depending on the unique ways that they use their devices. Commonly referred to as “digital eye strain,” symptoms usually include pain, fatigue, blurred vision, headaches and dry eyes.

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In addition to simply reducing the amount of time that kids spend looking at the screens of smartphones and other electronics devices, parents should take care to schedule annual eye examinations for their kids, teach them to position devices at an appropriate distance from their faces when using them, adjust the brightness of devices and instruct them to take breaks every 10 to 20 minutes that they’ve been staring at devices.

They can cause aches and pains in the neck, shoulders, back, hands, thumbs and other parts of the body.

Smartphone use forces people to tilt their heads down to look at them while moving their wrists and fingers in unnatural ways. Doing this frequently and for prolonged periods can cause pain and even permanent damage to bones and joints in the upper part of the body – especially the neck and spine. According to one leading Australian chiropractor interviewed by The Daily Mail Australia, an increasing number of children and teens are becoming hunchbacks because of their smartphone addictions.

The damage can be worsened by a sedentary lifestyle, so parents should encourage their kids to take frequent breaks and get physically active on a daily basis. It’s also worth talking to kids about the importance of proper body positioning when using their mobile devices and showing them how to lift their devices up higher to promote a more straightforward gaze. Parents can even just tell their kids to use their eyes to focus their gaze downward at the screen as a simple solution to minimizing the need to tilt their heads so much.

They may contribute to shortened attention spans.

Less than 5 percent of children in the U.S. were thought to have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) before the early 1990s, but in the following two decades since then, that figure has ballooned to 11 percent, according to the CDC in a report from the New York Times. The rapid increase likely has to do with sociological changes, including how kids use the internet and mobile devices for both educational and leisurely purposes.

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Medication can be used to treat children who’ve been diagnosed with ADHD, but even kids who don’t show any signs of the disorder should have strict limitations set by their parents for use of mobile devices. It’s good practice to avoid handing your kids a mobile device to quiet them down and distract them any time they act up. It may be pretty unpleasant to deal with, but focusing on teaching your kids to behave appropriately without technological distraction is far healthier for them in the long run.

They may inhibit the development of social skills.

The American Psychological Association has pointed out that there are currently very few studies and inconsistent findings regarding whether screen time negatively affects children’s social skills. But that’s not to say that it definitely doesn’t play a role. After all, more time spent looking at a mobile device means less time interacting face to face with friends and adults. A UCLA study discovered that overuse of mobile devices among sixth graders had numbed their ability to read human emotions.

In many ways, mobile devices can actually promote good social skills through communication platforms like instant messaging and social media – although not face to face, it can still have a positive impact on children who use it appropriately to support their in-person relationships. Still, parents should monitor their kids’ social behavior and consider talking to them if they suspect a lack of interest in spending time with friends, problems associated with bullying or odd behavior that negatively affects social interaction and relationship building.

They may contribute to higher levels of anxiety and depression.

Children who are old enough to use smartphones and tablets to connect with friends on social networking platforms may be negatively affected by the things that they see and experience. Since they’re still learning about the world around them and where they fit in, it’s common for children to use social media to compare themselves to their friends, invest a lot of energy into posting to impress others, and even worry about getting enough likes or comments.

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A study from the British Psychological Society found that the pressure for teens to be available on social media 24 hours a day and seven days a week was attributed to low self-esteem, poor sleep quality, anxiety and depression.

If you’re a parent of a particularly young child, you should have direct access to their social media accounts and limit the amount of time they can use them from a mobile device. All parents of children and teens should enforce rules about using privacy settings, treating others with respect at all times, and requiring any forms of harassment or cyberbullying to be brought to a parent or teacher’s attention. It’s also worth having regular discussions about the reality of social media so that kids can gain a clearer understanding of how it doesn’t necessarily reflect people’s real lives, and how certain forms of activity can lead to bad consequences.

They may impair brain structure and function.

Numerous studies have shown that excessive amounts of screen time damages the brain by causing gray matter atrophy, compromising white matter integrity, reducing cortical thickness, impairing cognitive functioning and debilitating dopamine function. A lot of the damage occurs in the frontal lobe part of the brain, which undergoes the most drastic changes in the early teen years to mid-twenties, and can affect everything from a person’s relationship building skills to their overall sense of well being. Even children who aren’t technically “addicted” to mobile devices are at risk of suffering damage to their developing brains if they’re regular users who spend several hours a day using them.

It’s time to take screen time limits seriously. According to integrative psychiatrist Dr. Dunckley, parents can eliminate their children’s risk of impaired brain structure and function by limiting screen time to two hours or less a day. She suggests that parents get their kids to do an electronic “fast” or “detox” lasting about 3 to 4 weeks as a way to reset the brain as opposed to moderately scaling back.

Smartphones have essentially changed the world as we know it, and even as adults, we need to be careful with how we use them. Children, however, are much more susceptible to experiencing more problems. Parents should educate themselves on best practices related to kids and mobile device use, stay conscious of their kids’ habits and work with them find the right balance in using them.

Featured photo credit: Randen Pederson via flickr.com

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Elise Moreau

Elise helps desk workers lead healthier lifestyles. Visit her website on her profile to get a free list of health hacks.

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Published on May 7, 2021

20 Energizing Brain Breaks For Kids

20 Energizing Brain Breaks For Kids

From coaching martial arts to children as young as four years old, I very quickly came to the understanding that if I wanted to help kids progress their skills, I needed to find a way to help them focus more consistently in my class.

There are two key ways I found when it came to improving my students’ level of focus:

  1. Make what we’re doing more interesting. Nothing is off the table here—from having ninja clowns on the rampage in a lesson to including popular games with a martial arts theme, tapping into the student’s love of fun to help them focus.
  2. Introduce brain breaks.

Brain breaks are small mental breaks that help the kids stay more focused. Think of the brain as a fuel gauge that shows the information you can consciously hold in your mind at any given moment. When the kids are focused and working hard on their tasks, the meter is usually full. They can easily concentrate and pass experiences into their long-term memory.

But when the needle starts to drop, you may observe that your kids are feeling anxious or looking restless. New information, experiences, and knowledge are not getting processed from the staging area or working memory into the long-term memory.[1]

It’s here that brain breaks make the most difference, as they allow us to “top-up the tank” or reset the gauge so that we can continue to learn and focus and at a higher level.

If you’ve been home tutoring, you’ll appreciate that brain breaks can help kids in many ways. They can reduce stress and frustration. Think of those times when you’re helping your kids solve a difficult problem. It’s taxing for you both and when compounded with the energy loss after a day at school or watching TV. The stress effect can be compounded, and it’s here that brain breaks can be a lifesaver.[2]

The following is a selection of brain break ideas for kids. You’ll see that some are physical activities while others are more relaxing. It’s always great to test them out to see which ones connect the best with your children.

It’s okay to repeat the same brain breaks. Having a clear name and mission to a break can help keep your child excited, knowing that they’ll have the opportunity to take part in a future round of the activity.

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Active Brain Breaks

Here are some active brain breaks for kids that you can try out.

1. Swapsies

Have the participants stand behind a chair. Call out a character trait, like “everyone with brown eyes.” You then swap places with someone else who has the same characteristic. If you have nothing that matches, you stay put!

Examples: “Everyone with trainers on.” “Everyone who is left-handed.” “Everyone who is wearing yellow.”

2. Dance Party

Put five or six different types of songs on Spotify, including a classic like “baby shark or the hamster dance.” Dim the lights if possible and have the kids dance to the tunes. Then, change the tunes and change the dance style. It’s silly and fun.

3. Freeze Dance

Similar to Dance Party except that when the music stops, students have to stay perfectly still until the music restarts. You can make this even more fun by trying to make the students smile. If they smile, they are out and have to sit down.

4. Keep It Up

Students must keep a balloon from touching the floor. You can add multiple balloons. You can make it more competitive by having different balloons of two different colors and split people into teams. Whoever keeps the balloons up the longest or the team with the most balloons in the air with a timer of 60 seconds wins.

5. Simon Says

This brain break for kids is an old favorite. You can also mix it up with martial arts moves, Fortnite dances, superhero moves, etc.

6. Animal Movement

Move like different animals. It’s fun for younger children. We use Flamingo where you stand on one leg, crawl like a bear, stand like a meerkat, run like a cheetah, and walk like a penguin.

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7. Find It Fast

“Find It Fast” is a scavenger hunt variation. Call an item out in the room and kids have to stand by it. For example, find a clock, find something with a face, find something smelly, find some money, find a phone, etc.

8. The Frog

Physical Challenges can be excellent fun. We have one in the martial arts class called “The Frog” where you squat like a frog, then lean forward so your head and feet are off the floor. These are all old yoga poses, so have a look through a booklet or website for some safe ideas. Other examples are grabbing your nose with your left hand and touching your knee with your right elbow.

9. Pizza Delivery Time

Give the students paper plates and tell them to hold the plates above their head on a flat hand. They then run around the room and try to keep the plate in their hand. You can make it more challenging by having other students try to knock others’ plates off. There’s usually a 3-star jump penalty if your plate touches the floor.

10. Limbo

We use martial arts belts and the students take turns going underneath the belts. Fun music creates an awesome atmosphere here.

11. Human Knot

Split the group of people and have everyone link hands under and over. That’s making knots between everyone in the group. Have the other students try to untangle them and return everyone back into a circle.

12. Feather Balance

This brain break for kids works well with gentle music, and you can use a balloon or a straw if you don’t have a feather handy.

13. Stack them high

The students should have plastic cups and paper squares. The goal is to make a tower as high as possible, or it could be to make a triangle or even a pyramid.

Relaxing Brain Breaks

We talked about brain breaks for kids that are being used to energize the students. But they can also be used to calm and relax them. We’re more familiar with the term mindfulness, but it’s the same idea. These are brain breaks for kids that reduce stress and anxiety.

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14. Meditation

Meditation

is a popular way to reduce anxiety. There are lots of great examples already pre-recorded on YouTube that you can follow along with. Below is a useful classroom meditation example.

15. Kaleidoscope

Kaleidoscopes are fun ways to relax. They are mesmerizing and like a peaceful vortex that sucks you into them. Below is a great example of a visual online one you can use.

16. Reading/Listening to a Story

When I surveyed the members of our martial arts club about how their kids employ brain breaks at home, there was a clear winner among the families—listening to a story or reading a story. The feedback was that the process of daydreaming a little helps the kids to recharge. But it goes without saying that the story needs to be engaging.

17. Doodling

My personal favorite way to brain break as a kid was to doodle. Doodling gives your child a few minutes to draw anything they want. It can be calming for them, and it’s a lot more fun if you have different types of pens or crayons available to use. Add some soft music, and you have a simple way to take some time to relax.

18. Coloring Sheets

Coloring sheets are another way to relax the mind. There’s lots of great coloring in pads available, but here are some links to public resources shared on the internet that are great examples.

19. Deep Breathing

Deep breathing

is an epic way to help your child slow down. It is a quick way to relieve anxiety so that they feel more ready for the next task ahead.

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Try this: put your hands on your tummy, breathe in through the nose, and feel your belly expand like a balloon. Hold it here, then slowly breathe out through the mouth while feeling your stomach get smaller. Repeat this 10 times. Use the following counts: breath in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and breath out for 4 seconds.

20. Going Outside

Go outside was the second most popular response from our parent’s survey about brain breaks for kids at home. Fresh air always feels nice. You can combine this with a treasure hunt, looking for different colored cars, types of birds, or even types of trees, if you’re familiar with these.

My personal favorite is using a mushroom spotting app on our phones and finding a mushroom or toadstool, then using the app to identify its name. This is surprisingly engaging for children. But a few safety rules about not touching them is important. It gives kids a change of scenery and helps revitalize the senses, providing a welcome break from their homework.

How Often Should You Introduce Brain Breaks?

The key to brain breaks is their timing. If you can introduce them before you notice that your kids are entering deep fatigue or their loss of focus has set in. You’ll find a great balance between breaks and effort.

I’ve observed from my martial arts coaching that younger students have a smaller amount of working memory than older kids. My formula is for five minutes of technical training, we provide five minutes of brain breaks for students under seven years old. Plus, we coach to 15 minutes of training to five minutes of brain breaks for children under 12 years.

Final Thoughts

Implementing calming brain breaks for kids is a really efficient way of introducing brain breaks. You have a quick way to allow your students to learn about regulating themselves. Balancing their mind and energy is a useful skill, and you can take this with you everywhere you go.

Our martial arts center revolutionized our approach to coaching by using brain breaks for kids. We found that although we were teaching less technical skills, there was now consistent progress from the students. Plus, everyone was less anxious, happier, and are having more fun. This is a win overall.

If you’ve been having challenges with your kids focusing at home, maybe try a mixture of the calming and active breaks to see which types work best for your kids.

Featured photo credit: Robert Collins via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] SimplyPsychology: Working Memory Model
[2] BrainFacts.org: Kids Need Brain Breaks — And So Do Adults

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