The Good Ol’ Days

There was a time – in the glorious and gilded days when I was a child – when children picked up their rooms and wore bow ties to school. I knew what a tough day mom had, so I always offered to clear the table. I said ‘Yes, Ma’am’ and ‘No Sir’. And imagine my shock when, on my wedding night, I learned that girls and boys look different without underwear?

Okay. This is preposterously silly. But there is a sense of urgency in Victoria Dunckley’s Reset Your Child’s Brain that harkens back to those good ol’ days that never were. She promises to End meltdowns, raise grades, and boost social skills by reversing the effects of electronic screen-time. I don’t care what era or what the evils: this is a fantastic sales pitch that will never fail to sell books.

Dunckley’s argument is that electronic activities trick your brain into thinking you are under attack. Your heart rate quickens and you gasp for breath. Plasma cortisol increases. You sweat. You identify with game characters and your parents buy into the sales pitch. You become a minion. There is evidence that all of this is true – but to what degree? The research is, by nature, correlative with almost no way to prove causation. What, really, causes Johnny’s poor grades? Loss of the family dinner table? New math? Or mom’s iPhone? All have a part, and no single ingredient will solve any crisis. Dunckley provides research references but bring along a grain of salt. Any research involving humans or even children is tough to pull causation from. Most of the research has a small sample size, which makes finding significant differences difficult. There might very well be something important here but, as most doctors and researchers agree, a lot more long-term research is required. And if true, if we trick ourselves into thinking we’re under attack, why don’t we put the laptop or tablet away instead of logging in for the thirteenth time today?

It’s Not Hard: Do The Important First

I don’t write Dunckley off, though. She’s a respected child psychologist who looks at the entire life rather than treating ailments symptomatically. And while maybe not a panacea, I applaud her advice – lay off the electronics. Make sure important things are done first and keep kids active and socially involved. I’m not sure if this is a revolution in child-rearing or just good advice that your grandmother gave. I’ve done this with my own children and all have grown to be reasonably sane adults. And that’s part of my issue: parents of all ages wring their hands over newfangled gadgets and ways to waste time and, in the end, when the kids are twenty or forty, they seem pretty normal. It will surprise no parent that after a steady stream of Teen Titans Go! or Adventure Time my kids are sassy brats who think their parents are idiots. I notice a calming change when I put limits on game, phone, and TV use. But I can’t say for sure that I am stemming psychological changes or if I’m simply making sure that important things are done first. We make sure that the kids are active and play with friends. Electronics are mostly for free time when school and work and dinner are done. Yes, I would prefer that they write to pen pals in Paris or read the classics in Latin but, geez, they’re kids. I whiled away in-between times with car models and Iron Man comics. I turned out alright. Maybe.

As an interesting and relevant aside, I encourage parents to read about ADHD treatment in France. Per the Amen Clinic, fully 80-85% of ADHD medications are prescribed in the US. France has much lower rates of all childhood behavioral issues but only prescribes medication after a full dietary, behavioral, and social workup of the entire family. Normal French discipline is cited as the primary reason.

See the Amen clinic’s write-up on ADHD here.
See the Psychology Today French report here. (Warning! Has caused some offense!)

I encourage all parents to read the book. You have to tip-toe a bit through hyperbole but the information presented is important and relevant.

Vive le France!