We just posted this article at http://DouglasCowan.me for our counseling clients, but wanted to make it available to you as well. It is also now included in our ADHD Diet Program for 2016 that we will post online in October, 2015 at http://ADHDdiet.info.
Digital Fasting to Reset the Brain
Sometimes in order to get healthy we need to fast. Fasting can include foods, or a number of other things that we like. In the section to follow I am going to suggest that part of getting our children and teenagers with ADHD healthy is going to require that they fast from their Digital world for a few weeks.
For our children, teenagers, and young adults the digital world is almost as important to them as food and sleep. In fact, sometimes it seems that the digital world is more important then either food or sleep. And living in this digital world may help to contribute to her attention problems, sleep problems, school performance problems, and even social interaction problems. Brains that spend a lot of time in the digital world need to be reset.
Most parents are not aware of the problem. Both parents think that they're teenagers are children are immune from the problems that the digital world may cause. But our children, teenagers, and young adults are not growing up in the same way that we parents did. Their experience of the world is different from ours. And as a result of their brains are developing differently than ours.
For a quick example, in our generation about 4% of all children and teenagers were diagnosed with the equivalent of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or, or ADHD. But today 11% of all children and teenagers are diagnosed with ADHD.
What has changed?
• To some extent our diets have changed.
• To some extent our culture has changed.
• To some extent there are more head injuries from certain context boards, and there certainly are far more children who are exposed to drugs or alcohol in utero and therefore have your own set of injuries that will be diagnosed as ADHD later in life.
• But of all of these changes none are more significant than how are children and teenagers growing up within a digital world.
Because of the widespread availability of smart phones about 25% of teenagers will go online almost constantly. 92% of teenagers report going online every single day, including that 25% Who said that they are online constantly.
According to the most recent study from the Pew Research Center, more than half of all teenagers go online several times a day. And only one out of five teenager goes online once a day or less. And this is because most of our teenagers were carrying around smart phones in their pockets and can access the Internet pretty much anytime they want to.
Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are the most popular social media platforms for teenagers. 70% of teenagers will go on Facebook every single day, and half of teenagers use Instagram.
Because so many teenagers have smart phones texting has become the preferred means of communication rather than having a conversation with someone else. A typical teenager with a smart phone will send and receive 30 or more text messages every single day. The vast majority of text messages are sent by teenage girls. And well the girls are texting, the boys are playing video games.
The vast majority of boys the matter what their ages will play online video games on their computer, on the TV set, or on their smart phones.
So what is the problem with our children and teenagers having these tools?
This technology is changing the way that our children and teenagers look at the world, interact with the world, and learn it. It is creating a generation of distracted people. Easily distracted people.
There is a growing and contrast between the school environment, which requires that our students stay in their seats and listen to material being presented, read from books, and process and learn information, from a highly stimulating virtual world - a digital world - that is far more exciting, has instant gratification, is filled with vivid teaming opportunities that offer adventure and excitement without any risk or effort.
The digital world that are teenagers stare at on their smart phones is far more exciting than anything school offers. Compared to this digital world school is simply dull.
And our children's brains, and our teenagers brains, are adjusting to this digital world. The skill of having conversations is decreasing. The skill of paying attention to a teacher or another wise person is decreasing. The skill of learning wisdom from the successes or failures of a previous generation is decreasing.
Being connected to this digital world, and the glowing screens that present this world to us is keeping our children and teenagers up later and later at night, and providing them with less and less sleep. And growing and developing children and teenagers are supposed to get at least eight hours of sleep each night and 9 to 10 hours of sleep is even better. The glow of the digital screen actually makes it harder for everyone to go to sleep at night. Adults are not immune from this and neither are our children.
The time spent in front of a computer screen, our PlayStation, or television set, is a contributing factor to problems with attention, poor social skills, impulsivity, and a lack of creativity.
As parents we need to limit the amount of time that our children, teenagers, and even young adults spending front of any kind of digital screen. And when I comes to enhancing sleep it is imperative that all electronic devices are turned off at least one hour before bedtime. Music is fine. And watching television is OK as long as you are across the room from that. But smart phones, iPads, and computer monitors are a significant problem.
If there is an ever growing body of research that concludes that excess of electronic use will decrease hey child, or teenagers’ ability to focus in the real world. One study from the national Institute of mental health concluded that "extensive exposure to television and video games may promote development of brain systems that scan and shift attention at the expense of those that focus attention." The time we spend in front of computer screens, television sets, video games, Facebook, and other smart phone entertainments, makes us less able to focus our attention, and get tasks done on time and with quality.
And if you want your child to pay attention better, and to be more creative, and they have better social interaction, and be less hyperactive, then I would recommend to you that they fast from electronic devices for a period of three weeks.
Their brain needs to reset.
And yes I understand that there are a number of researchers who are studying how certain kinds of video games may in fact enhance brain performance, but let's be realistic, your kids are not playing these games. They are playing Halo, and looking at Facebook, and texting their friends. And none of this is helping them to be better in school, or to interact with adults better, or to be more creative.
Specifically with ADHD children and teenagers, one of the major theories of ADHD is that there is a deficiency of dopamine in the ADHD brain. Ritalin is a medicine that increases the dopamine activity in the brain. And so with most people with ADHD symptoms Ritalin, and medications like it, help to increase performance at home and at school. And it seems that video games also help to increase dopamine activity in the brain. And one might be tempted to think this is a good thing.
Most children and teenagers with ADHD can very successfully focus on watching TV, on playing video games, I'm texting friends, or looking at Facebook. But two things are happening that we may not like after a while: first, how are ADHD children and teenagers are being "dopamine rewarded" for being in front of a computer screen so they will want to be there as long as they can, as often as they can; and secondly, their brains are getting these increases and dopamine activity from something that will not translate into real world performance or life.
So once away from the computer screen, or the smart phone, or the television set, how are ADHD children and teenagers are even more inattentive, impulsive, and perhaps hyperactive. They are less able to focus in the real world.
So, to help our children and teenagers be able to be more focused, and to learn better, and to be more socially intelligent and able to carry an intelligent conversation with others, we need to help them to reset their brains by fasting from electronic devices for a short period of time.
A three-week "fast" from electronic devices helps pretty much everyone. Of course not everyone can do this. I use electronic devices in my counseling practice for scheduling appointments, for answering emails, and for testing. But when I go on vacation I can leave all of that behind.
But our children and teenagers typically do not operate counseling practices, or any other kind of business that relies on computers, the Internet, her computerized testing. They use electronics for entertainment purposes. And entertainment is always optional.
Here's what your children and teenagers, and even though you might expect from a three week fast from electronic devices:
• A greater sense of relaxation,
• better mood,
• improved focus,
• deeper and longer sleep,
• more success at school,
• better work performance,
• better family life,
• more conversations at home,
• and improved relationships with other people.
And so this fast is now a part of our ADHD diet program.
This part of the fast will result in better blood flow in the brain, improved sleep which is a wonderful medicine all by itself, and reduced levels of stress. And in order to receive the benefits of this fast please understand that over this period of time you must actually "fast".
Just 30 minutes a day of computer use or video game playing can disturb sleep, increased fatigue, and increase inattention and lack of focus in children and teenagers. Two hours of TV are required for the same affects. Even a short amount of interactive video game playing will cause problems with sleep, concentration, and school performance.
So even if you can only fast for one week, make it a complete fast, and you will see improvements.
After helping children and teens with ADHD for about 30 years, I offer some free resources to parents that just might be helpful. The ADHD Information Library is an online resource with over 230 articles that I’ve written through the years on ADHD at http://Newideas.net. Another resource is at http://ADDinSchool.com where I have about 500 classroom ideas to help children and teens with ADHD be more successful at school. For parents interested in trying some alternative treatment ideas, our ADHD Diet Program ebook is available at http://ADHDdiet.info, and we also recommend VAXA’s excellent products Attend and Extress. If you would like to know more, please feel free to call or email me directly.
Douglas Cowan, Psy.D., M.S. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist here in Tehachapi, CA who has been a skillful counselor to children, teens, and adults helping them to overcome ADHD, find relief for depression or anxiety, and solve other problems in life since 1989. He served on the medical advisory board to the company that makes Attend and Extress from 1997 through 2011, and he is the Editor of the ADHD Information Library online resource. His ADHD Newsletter goes out to 9,500 families. He can be reached at (area code six-six-one) 972-5953 or via email at newideas.net AT gmail.com.