Digital Detox, Children, Parents and Schools

In her report called ‘The Impact on Mental Health of Children and Young People During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic’ published in July 2021, Sarah Foster, a UK based play and creative art therapist, emphasises that “Those concerned with the over-use of screens and its effects on children’s brain development, mental health and coping abilities are in agreement that screen time should be reduced” The report also speaks of a screen-fast and a digital detox by spending time in nature.

Victoria Dunckley MD, an integrative psychiatrist from Los Angeles, points out the importance of young people and children having unhindered physical access to schools, colleges, universities and clubs and to reduce screen time to enable them to reintegrate and socialise with peers, back in the real world.

Digital Detox, Children, Parents and Schools

Digital Detox, Children, Parents and Schools

A parent’s screen distraction may hinder the parent-child relationship. A child who sees a parent fascinated by technology may not only feel neglected but may also believe they need to do the same. There is a tendency in technology enthused adults to suffer from ‘continuous partial attention’ which is a term coined by technology expert Linda Stone. This term means being constantly attuned to everything without fully concentrating on anything. The relationship with screens is replacing eye contact with people in social as well as family environments.

Over-use of smartphones and technology overloads the sensory system thus inducing stress reactions, fractured attention and depleted mental reserves, leading to addiction in both children and adults. Parents are encouraged to switch off and put away their electronic devices and to engage with children in activities that are not mediated by technology. The therapeutic and developmental importance of play for children, that does not involve electronic gadgets, cannot be overstated. Social interactions between teenagers and between adults that exclude technology are also critically important for mental and physical health. Evening screen time prevents restorative deep sleep.

The report warns that excessive screen time and the growing trend for play and leisure to be inside homes as a result of health mandates reduces tactile and sensory experiences. The three-dimensional natural world experience is being replaced by a two dimensional virtual reality. We are facing a severe impoverishment of human experience. This acceleration of isolation since 2020 due to health restrictions needs to be seen in the context of the preceding persistent trend in this direction over the past decades. “The sensitivity and connection to the unhurried cycles of nature is being lost and is being replaced by addictive electronic stimulation and virtual experience.” All this creates a nature-deficit that is of long-term harm to children. Living in harmony with the natural world and other species is the healthiest lifestyle for humans. In this sense the push by the digital industry to create a society that is dependent on the electronic medium is dehumanising.

Digital Detox, Children, Parents and Schools

Digital Detox, Children, Parents and Schools

The stress caused by excessive technology and health mandates also has a physiological impact on the human brain. This affects both adults and children but is far more harmful in children. Such a prolonged stress causes anxiety and fear resulting in emotional, mental and physical reactions characterised by withdrawal, disassociation and depersonalisation. All these symptoms hinder a person’s ability to have a normal life and rewarding relationships.

The report also speaks of a screen-fast and a digital detox by spending time in nature. Breathing outdoors in unpolluted green spaces provides us with an abundance of natural immune system and mood enhancers such as vitamin D and serotonin from sunlight, negative ions wherever water splashes or plants grow, phytoncides from trees and fragrant aromas from flora and fauna.

By simple breathing and awareness exercises we become more mindful of the effects on our body when we are in nature. Sarah Foster insightfully points out that “as we naturally become more mindful of our environment, this awareness brings us an understanding that in the here and now we are safe.”

There are remedies and better lifestyles that we can adopt. Landplay uses play and nature’s sensory abundance to develop and enhance children’s abilities to relate to others, to feel empathy, to connect, to care, cooperate with others and additionally problem solve, explain, reflect, learn, vocalise and reason. This is a low cost and universal outdoor therapy. Connecting to, and interacting with, the rhythms of nature helps children to have healthier and more meaningful lives. Children are drawn into the present moment by being mindful. This puts them back in control and able and willing to make the necessary changes to their behaviour.

Digital Detox, Children, Parents and Schools

Digital Detox, Children, Parents and Schools

Landplay is an effective nature-based process that is proven to detox children away from addictive technology-mediated lifestyles. The parents’ participation in this process is critical. It is an indictment of today’s adults that what should be normal behaviour and a common environment for children is now resorted to as a therapy. Sarah Foster points out that “it is clear that wellbeing and learning opportunities are numerous in nature’s sensory rich environments.”

Action needs to be taken now so that the effects on children and young people arising from the knee jerk health policies of the past two years “do not continue to unravel in the decades to come.” The younger generations are the most important segment of society. It is cowardly for adults to place children and young people in harm’s way in order to protect themselves. Rather we should protect our children and grandchildren from harm, not only because we love them but also because they embody the future of humanity.

If you are interested in a just and sustainable society please read these other articles

This article was published in The Times of Malta on the 2nd April 2022

Related articles:

Children, Parents and Health Restrictions

Screen Time Excesses Harm Children’s Development

Health Mandates, Children Parents and Screen Time