Parents hear all the time that they should limit screen time, get their kids out, watch the sugar intake – but why? Some say, “Let kids be kids?” or, “Is it really a big deal?”
Well unfortunately yes, it is a big deal. Especially when considering the sharp rise of mental illness, autism, low self-esteem and focus-related issues in children. We have talked about the effects of sugar and diet, and the importance of exercise and getting outside, but today we want to reiterate why it’s so important to consider brain health as it relates to the things we can change: our daily schedule and habits.
One factor (out of many) is the brain chemical dopamine. Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter that has affects on the reward center, motor movement and the planning and learning center of the brain. It is one of the chemicals involved in the learning pathways of the frontal cortex.
So when we are talking about screen time, healthy diet, sleep habits and movement, one of the reasons we address this is to optimize brain function, and thus, dopamine production. When our brains are producing optimal levels of dopamine (because it is such an important, highly involved brain chemical) we increase the way we feel about ourselves, our ability to learn from our environment and what we find to be important.
As parents, especially in today’s overscheduled, competitive world, we are always thinking of what we need to do for our children. Any positive change you make for your child is going to have a lasting impact, but we put together a list of ways you can optimize your child’s environment at home.
So often we hear, “Well, I was exposed to (fill in the blank: plastics, radiation, vaccines, sugar, etc.) and we turned out just fine.” Our environment has never been as toxic as it is today, and it is is true, everyone will be “OK.” If you do nothing, you will be “OK.” Your child will be “OK.” So this list is not meant to cause stress, because if you do nothing, everything will be “OK.” But we want more for our family and children, so this list will propel them far beyond “OK”!
The truth is, our environments are not what they used to be, so we have to do more to compensate. We are exposed to more chemical pollutants in our air and water, and electro-magnetic radiation from our cell phones, tablets and computers. Our children are exposed to more levels of violence and aggression in the clear images on video games, and unlimited access to violence in the news. Farming and commercial food production is pouring processed sugar, oils and chemicals into our food source. So while we cannot live in a vacuum, there are things that you can do to lower the exposure and optimize your child’s life, well-being and brain growth.
As human beings, we are not meant to sit for hours a day, we were meant to move, be outdoors walking, gathering and generally mobile. Today, most children spend 7-8 hours at school, with maybe 20-40 minutes for recess and lunch. That accounts for at least 6 hours of sitting and learning. Most kids are then in after-care while their parents work, or in the car driving from one activity to another. Gone are the days when kids came home from school, played outside for hours until dinner, and went to bed. After the running around, there are hours of homework, rushed dinners, and late bedtimes with screens on to induce sleep. Our brains are over stimulated on a daily basis, and while this is “OK,” it is not healthy, at least from a clinical perspective.
Happily, there are ways to implement movement in our kid’s day. Talk with your children, and try to make family time a priority. Making a daily connection with your family will really make an impact in both the short and long term. If you are happy, your kids are happy. If you are stressed, that trickles down as well. Always be mindful of your energy and its impact on others.
As practitioners, we focus much of our attention on steering parents and children into the right direction within a world that is continually focusing us elsewhere. Every parent is just trying to do their best, and our goal is to help educate, motivate and encourage, so that every child meets their optimal potential.
Behaved Brain Wellness Center
Healthier Kids – Happier Parents
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