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Reset Your Child's Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time
     

Reset Your Child's Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time

by Victoria L. Dunckley
 

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A no-cost, nonpharmaceutical treatment plan for children with behavioral and mental health challenges

Increasing numbers of parents grapple with children who are acting out without obvious reason. Revved up and irritable, many of these children are diagnosed with ADHD, bipolar illness, autism, or other disorders but don’t respond well to treatment.

Overview

A no-cost, nonpharmaceutical treatment plan for children with behavioral and mental health challenges

Increasing numbers of parents grapple with children who are acting out without obvious reason. Revved up and irritable, many of these children are diagnosed with ADHD, bipolar illness, autism, or other disorders but don’t respond well to treatment. They are then medicated, often with poor results and unwanted side effects. Based on emerging scientific research and extensive clinical experience, integrative child psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Dunckley has pioneered a four-week program to treat the frequent underlying cause, Electronic Screen Syndrome (ESS).

Dr. Dunckley has found that everyday use of interactive screen devices — such as computers, video games, smartphones, and tablets — can easily overstimulate a child’s nervous system, triggering a variety of stubborn symptoms. In contrast, she’s discovered that a strict electronic fast single-handedly improves mood, focus, sleep, and behavior, regardless of the child’s diagnosis.

Offered now in this book, this simple intervention can produce a life-changing shift in brain function — all without cost or medication. Dr. Dunckley provides hope for parents who feel that their child has been misdiagnosed or inappropriately medicated, by presenting an alternative explanation for their child’s difficulties and a concrete plan for treating them.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
07/06/2015
Integrative psychiatrist Dunckley tackles the hot issue of the effects that electronic devices such as cellphones, computers, and e-readers are having on children’s brains. The effects, she believes, are profound, potentially dangerous, but also reversible. Dividing the book into three parts, she begins by outlining symptoms of and problems developing from Electronic Screen Syndrome (ESS). Parts two and three explain how to “reset” the brain with a three-week electronic fast, and then how to decide whether to reintroduce electronics. Dunckley includes plenty of case studies, which make for interesting reading. Justin’s teacher and dad thought he had ADHD; however, when he eliminated screen time, his symptoms gradually disappeared. A three-year-old girl’s tics—eye-blinking and throat-clearing—vanished when her parents took away her smartphone. Dunckley’s ideas for moderating screen time, such as mandating equal amounts of exercise time, should appeal to parents. Readers will also feel relieved to have such a helpful guide to teaching children that there is more to life than staring at a screen. Agent: Deirdre Mullane, Deirdre Literary. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
“Impressively researched, eye-opening, and eminently practical, Reset Your Child’s Brain is an invaluable contribution to any parent’s library. Dr. Dunckley’s plan is sure to provide relief to a great many children — and their families.”
— Craig Malkin, PhD, instructor in psychology, Harvard Medical School, and author of Rethinking Narcissism

“Readers will . . . feel relieved to have such a helpful guide to teaching children that there is more to life than staring at a screen.”
Publishers Weekly

“Dr. Victoria Dunckley has given every child psychiatrist and pediatrician in America a wonderful gift. This book gives us a tool to share with the parents of the millions of children in the US who are agitated, unfocused, and out of control. She also answers the question about why this problem has accelerated in the last decade: it is screen-time, not a lack of Ritalin. I completely agree with her premise and her interventions. Thank you!”
— Scott Shannon, MD, integrative child psychiatrist, past president of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine, and author of Please Don’t Label My Child

"Many parents won’t want to hear this, but child psychiatrist Dunckley makes a compelling case for an 'unrecognized disorder' she terms Electronic Screen Syndrome (ESS). From kids who melt down without cause, refuse to look people in the eye, are 'wired but tired,' or otherwise just hole up in their rooms all day, Dunckley’s research identifies the common thread of dysregulation owing to screen use and orders an immediate electronic 'fast.' Showing how ESS affects brain chemistry, arousal, sleep, and behavior, to name but a few outcomes, the author moves into a four-week step-by-step plan to 'reset' a child’s brain, resulting in better focus and organization, improved compliance, and more mature social interactions."
Library Journal

“Parents will probably recoil from the idea of taking their children’s cell phones and laptops away from them. Let them know that Dunckley acknowledges the mountain that she is asking them to climb and, not only gives them thorough reasons for doing it, but also a highly detailed plan for accomplishing it.”
Retailing Insight

“This practical and easy-to-read guide is a much-needed wake-up call for this digital age. Buy Reset Your Child’s Brain for your family, your school, and your local library.”
— Kerry Crofton, PhD, cofounder and executive director of Doctors for Safer Schools and author of A Wellness Guide for the Digital Age

“This book looks at how electronic media use can affect the central nervous system long after the offending device has actually been used — an effect similar to that of drug addiction. It presents new studies that show how, as with drug use, functioning may not be impaired immediately, and in some cases it may even improve initially but then becomes worse. Finally, Dr. Dunckley outlines issues in diagnosis, in assessment, and most important, in treatment for battling and resetting the brain to overcome the rapidly emergent condition of Electronic Screen Syndrome.”
— Dr. Kimberly S. Young, founder and director of the Center for Internet Addiction and NetAddiction.com

“One of the problems worldwide that relates to this book is sleep deprivation. This has many consequences and — to put it bluntly — makes the sleep-deprived person fat, lazy, stupid, and depressed! The more that books like this expose the problem, the sooner we will be moving to a higher and more secure state of well-being!”
— John J. Ratey, MD, clinical associate professor of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, and author of Spark

“Victoria Dunckley makes a convincing case that parents should be very concerned about their children’s constant exposure to electronic screen–based entertainment. Citing medical research as well as her work with hundreds of patients, Dr. Dunckley explains how electronic media overwhelm children’s nervous systems and impair their physical and mental functioning. Families who follow her practical approach to discontinuing electronic screen-time will see dramatic improvement in their children’s health and behavior.”
— Jessica Solodar, award-winning medical journalist and former medical writer for Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Psychiatry and the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation

“Parents are constantly asking, ‘What are the effects of screen use on my kids, how much is too much, and how can I regulate the use of screens by my kids?’ Finally, thanks to Dr. Dunckley’s Reset Program, parents have the answers and the tools to work on a solution!”
— Ann Corwin, PhD, MEd, parenting education consultant, TheParentingDoctor.com

Library Journal
11/01/2015
Look out, mom and dad. That smartphone might just be the root of all your kid's problems (along with the Nintendo, Xbox, TV, and iPad). Many parents won't want to hear this, but child psychiatrist Dunckley makes a compelling case for an "unrecognized disorder" she terms Electronic Screen Syndrome (ESS). From kids who melt down without cause, refuse to look people in the eye, are "wired but tired," or otherwise just hole up in their rooms all day, Dunckley's research identifies the common thread of dysregulation owing to screen use and orders an immediate electronic "fast." Showing how ESS affects brain chemistry, arousal, sleep, and behavior, to name but a few outcomes, the author moves into a four-week step-by-step plan to "reset" a child's brain, resulting in better focus and organization, improved compliance, and more mature social interactions. VERDICT Decreasing childhood use of electronics often results in better behavior, but whether that's because parent and child find new ways of communicating and spending time together or because the electronics are creating long-term damage is still up for debate.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781608682843
Publisher:
New World Library
Publication date:
07/14/2015
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
97,106
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

Reset Your Child's Brain

A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time


By Victoria L. Dunckley

New World Library

Copyright © 2015 Victoria Dunckley, MD
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60868-284-3



CHAPTER 1

ELECTRONIC SCREEN SYNDROME

An unrecognized disorder


In diagnosis, think of the easy first.

— Martin H. Fischer


Consider the following questions:

• Does your child seem revved up a lot of the time?

• Does your child have meltdowns over minor frustrations?

• Does your child have full-blown rages?

• Has your child become increasingly oppositional, defiant, or disorganized?

• Does your child become irritable when told it's time to stop playing video games or to get off the computer?

• Do you ever notice your child's pupils are dilated after using electronics?

• Does your child have a hard time making eye contact after screen-time or in general?

• Would you describe your child as being attracted to screens "like a moth to a flame"?

• Do you ever feel your child is not as happy as he or she should be, or that your child is not enjoying activities like he or she used to?

• Does your child have trouble making or keeping friends because of immature behavior?

• Do you worry your child's interests have narrowed recently, or that these interests mostly revolve around screens? Do you feel his or her thirst for knowledge and natural curiosity has been dampened?

• Are your child's grades falling, or is he or she not performing academically up to his or her potential — and no one is certain why?

• Have teachers, pediatricians, or therapists suggested your child might have bipolar disorder, depression, ADHD, an anxiety disorder, or even psychosis, and there 's no family history of the disorder?

• Have multiple practitioners given your child differing or conflicting diagnoses? Have you been told your child needs medication, but this doesn't feel right to you?

• Does your child have a preexisting condition, like autism or ADHD, whose symptoms seem to be getting worse?

• Does your child seem "wired and tired," like they're exhausted but can't sleep, or they sleep but don't feel rested?

• Does your child seem lazy or unmotivated and have poor attention to detail?

• Would you describe your child as being stressed, despite few or no stressors you can clearly point to?

• Is your child receiving services in school that don't seem to be helping?


If these questions strike a familiar chord, like many other parents you may be confronted with difficulties all too common in today's electronically saturated world. These days, parenting a child who is struggling with behavior, mood, or cognitive issues is fraught with confusion and frustration: What's causing the problem? Where do we focus our resources? Does my child need formal testing? Should we get a second opinion, and from whom — a neurologist? A psychiatrist? A psychologist or educational specialist? And so on. Many parents feel lost; they are unsure of what's going on and often receive conflicting advice, leading them to feel pulled in different directions. They seek multiple opinions, scour the Internet for information, ask other parents what's worked for them, and agonize over whether to try medication. Parents often report that the process winds up feeling like they're simply going in circles. This paralysis of analysis is costly — in terms of time, money, resources, and a child's self-esteem.

You might notice that the quiz questions above cover a wide variety of dysfunction, but they all represent scenarios — related to symptoms, functioning, or treatment effectiveness — that can occur when a child starts operating from a more primitive part of the brain. During this state, two things tend to happen: 1) symptoms and functioning worsen, and 2) interventions don't work very well. Thus, the goal is to find out what's causing this state. Regardless of what your child's particular issues are, if they're not being managed adequately, it's safe to assume that something is being missed. Wouldn't it be nice if that some thing could be the same thing for each and all of these issues? If addressing one thing improved functioning across the board, whether your child carried multiple diagnoses or none at all?

To see how this might be possible, consider the following three cases:

Diagnosed with autism, six-year-old Michael was receiving in-home behavioral services. When he suddenly developed severe obsessive-compulsive symptoms, his treatment team called me for a consult. Upon learning he was earning video game time daily as a reward, I convinced the family and treatment team to try the Reset Program before initiating any medication. Four weeks later his obsessive-compulsive symptoms had diminished substantially, and as an added bonus he made better eye contact and displayed a brighter mood.

Calla was a high school junior who struggled with severe mood swings and insomnia. Calla's treatment providers suspected she was bipolar, and her defiant attitude and dramatic displays of emotion had recently landed her in a class reserved for kids with emotional problems, which only made things worse. Frustrated after a particular medication trial caused a rapid weight gain, Calla and her mother wound up in my office. After much discussion, they agreed to try the electronic fast as part of an overall treatment plan. Six weeks later, the sweet girl underneath all that turmoil resurfaced. Within six months, Calla was sleeping soundly, following the rules at home and school, and had lost ten pounds. By the end of the school year, she was back in mainstream classes.

Eight-year-old Sam was a typical kid with no formal diagnosis who had always enjoyed learning. But in third grade, Sam's math and reading achievement scores dropped inexplicably, and he began to dread going to school. He was nearly constantly in trouble for being disruptive, and both his teacher and the school psychologist suggested to his mother that Sam might have ADHD. Yet within two months of completing the Reset Program, Sam was turning in more assignments, getting glowing reports from his teacher about his "attitude change," and making steady progress in math and reading.

Though their individual presentations varied, each child was essentially in a state of dysregulation — that is, they lacked the ability to modulate mood, attention, and/or level of arousal in a manner appropriate to the given environment or stimulus. Something was irritating these kids' nervous systems, making it difficult to handle everyday life. All three kids felt miserable and out of control, their families felt taken hostage by whatever had taken hold of their child, and their support teams struggled to identify what was being missed. Yet all three children responded to the same simple intervention. The fact that each child's nervous system renormalized with an electronic fast suggests that screen-time played a role in the development of each child's decline.


The Dawn of a New Disorder

Like many other aspects of our fast-paced but often sedentary lifestyle, screen-time is introducing new variables into the health equation. Screen-time affects our brains and bodies at multiple levels, manifesting in various mental health symptoms related to mood, anxiety, cognition, and behavior. Because the effects of screen-time are complicated and diverse, I've found it helpful to conceptualize the constellation of common phenomena as a syndrome — what I call Electronic Screen Syndrome (ESS). Importantly, ESS can occur in the absence of a psychiatric disorder and yet mimic one, or it can occur in the face of an underlying disorder and exacerbate it.

ESS is essentially a disorder of dysregulation. Because it's so stimulating, interactive screen-time shifts the nervous system into fight-or-flight mode, which leads to dysregulation and disorganization of various biological systems.

Sometimes this stress response is immediate and obvious, such as while playing a video game. At other times the stress response is more subtle, taking place gradually from repetitive screen interaction, such as frequent texting or social media use. Or it may be delayed, brewing under the surface but managed well enough, then erupting once years of screen-time have accumulated. Regardless, over time, repeated fight-or-flight and overstimulation of the nervous system from electronics will often eventually culminate in a dysregulated child. The sidebar "Characteristics of Electronic Screen Syndrome in Children" (page 17) provides a good idea of what ESS looks like.

One way to think about the syndrome is to view electronics as a stimulant (in essence, not unlike caffeine, amphetamines, or cocaine): electronic screen device use puts the body into a state of high arousal and hyperfocus, followed by a "crash." This overstimulation of the nervous system is capable of causing a variety of chemical, hormonal, and sleep disturbances in the same way other stimulants can. And just as drug use can affect a user long after all traces of the drug are out of the body, electronic media use can affect the central nervous system long after the offending device is actually used. Furthermore, also like drug use, functioning may not be impaired immediately, and in some cases it may even improve initially, but then become worse. In fact, abuse and addiction of stimulant drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine have a very similar presentation to that of ESS, including mood swings, concentration problems, and restricted interests outside of the substance or activity of choice.


It's the Medium, Not the Message

Now that ESS has been broadly defined, let me clarify some terms and address some questions readers may have at this point.

For instance, if mental health issues arise because of screen-time, the first question is often: Is it because of the sheer amount of screen-time, because of the type of activity, or because of the nature of what's seen? The truth is, research suggests that all screen activities provide unnatural simulation to the nervous system and can cause adverse effects. But contrary to popular belief, content isn't as important as amount, and interactive screen-time causes more dysfunction than passive.

Strictly speaking, the term screen-time refers to any and all time spent in front of any device with an electronic screen, such as computers, televisions, video games, smartphones, iPads, tablets, laptops, digital cameras, e-readers, and so on. It includes any screen-related activity, whether for work, school, or pleasure. This includes time spent texting, video chatting, surfing the Internet, gaming, emailing, engaging in social media, using apps, shopping online, writing and word processing, reading from a device, and even scrolling through pictures on a phone. It includes activities like playing electronic Scrabble or solitaire, "educational" electronic games or apps, and reading from a Kindle.


Interactive vs. Passive Screen-Time

In terms of impact, perhaps the most important distinction is between interactive and passive screen-time. Interactive screen-time refers to screen activities in which the user regularly interfaces with a device, be it a touch screen, keyboard, console, motion sensor, and so on. Passive screen-time refers to watching movies or television programs on a TV set from across the room. Nowadays parents often let their children watch TV shows or movies on an iPad, laptop, or handheld device, but because viewing media this way is more stimulating and dysregulating (for reasons I'll get into later), I consider this to be interactive screen-time.

Generally speaking, both interactive and passive screen-time are associated with health issues. Research indicates both types are involved in obesity, attention problems, slower reading development, depression, sleep problems, diminished creativity, and irritability, to name a few. What is somewhat counterintuitive with ESS, however, is that interactive screen-time is much worse than passive. Many families I work with already limit passive screen-time (such as television) but not interactive. This is because we associate passive viewing with inactivity, apathy, and laziness. In fact, parents are often encouraged to provide interactive screen-time (particularly in favor of passive screen-time), with the rationale that surely this type of activity engages the child's brain. Children are forced to think and puzzle rather than just watch, so it must be better, right? But interaction is in and of itself one of the major factors that contributes to hyperarousal, so sooner or later, any potential benefit of interactivity is overridden by stress-related reactions. Furthermore, interactivity is what keeps the user engaged by providing a sense of control, choices, and immediate gratification, but unfortunately these attributes are the same ones that activate reward circuits and lead to prolonged, compulsive, and even addictive use.

Burgeoning research comparing the two supports this theory that interactive screen-time is more dysregulating to the nervous system than passive. A 2012 study surveying the habits of over two thousand kindergarten, elementary, and junior high school children found that the minimum amount of screen-time associated with sleep disturbance was just thirty minutes for interactive (computer or video game use) compared to two hours for passive (television use). A 2007 study demonstrated that sleep and memory were significantly impaired following a single session of excessive computer game playing, while a single session of excessive television viewing produced only mild sleep impairment and had no effect on memory. And a large 2011 survey of American adolescents and adults demonstrated that interactive device use before bedtime was strongly associated with trouble falling asleep and staying asleep while passive media use was not. Notably, this study also revealed that adolescents and young adults under thirty were the age group most likely to use interactive devices before bedtime, and they also reported the most sleep disturbance. Moreover, of those experiencing sleep problems, 94 percent also reported an impact on at least one area of functioning: mood (85 percent), school/work (83 percent), home/family life (72 percent), and social life/relationships (68 percent). Not coincidentally, these are the very areas of functioning the Reset Program addresses! And finally, we know that actual brain damage occurs from excessive Internet and video game use that looks remarkably similar to that from drug and alcohol abuse, so something about the interactive nature either directly (through hyperarousal) or indirectly (through addiction processes) makes interactive screen-time more potent as well as distinct.

When implementing the electronic fast in the Reset Program, I typically allow small amounts of television or movies under certain conditions (as discussed in chapter 5). If these conditions are met, the fast is still highly effective. On the other hand, allowing even small amounts of gaming or computer play often renders the Reset useless. Thus, for the Reset Program, we are primarily concerned with eliminating interactive screen-time. Additionally, most parents become overwhelmed at the thought of taking away all electronics, so allowing a small amount of passive viewing of appropriate, calm content provides parents with a bit of a respite. That said, I do not take television's effects lightly, especially on the very young, and I applaud anyone who removes all passive screen-time in addition to the other requirements of the fast. Regarding computer use for school purposes, I typically allow it during the Reset, but certain exceptions and rules apply (as discussed in chapters 5 and 10).


Common Misconceptions about Problematic Screen-Time

Misconceptions abound when it comes to screen-time, even among mental health professionals. For starters, it's not just violent video games that can cause dysregulation, but any video game — including educational or seemingly benign games, like puzzles or building games. Another myth is that it's only children who are "addicted" to gaming, Internet use, or social media who experience issues, or that screen-time only becomes a problem when parents don't restrict it. In fact, many children display symptoms from screen-time without being addicted per se, and some children become over-stimulated and dysregulated with only minimal amounts of screen exposure. I see many families in which the parents limit usage to levels at or below what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends (no more than one to two hours total screen-time daily), but if some or most of that time is interactive, it can easily create a problem.

The truth is, every child is affected differently. Comparing your child's screen-time to his or her peers isn't helpful either, as it doesn't necessarily provide protection if it's less than others'. The average child is exposed to several fold–higher levels of electronic screen media compared to just one generation ago — not to mention the constant bombardment of wireless communication that often accompanies it.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Reset Your Child's Brain by Victoria L. Dunckley. Copyright © 2015 Victoria Dunckley, MD. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Victoria L. Dunckley, MD, is an award-winning integrative psychiatrist who has appeared as a mental health expert on such media outlets as the TODAY show, NBC Nightly News, and the Investigation Discovery network. In the past ten years, her Reset Program has helped more than five hundred children, teens, and young adults who failed to respond to conventional treatment alone. She lives and practices in Los Angeles.

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