Posts Tagged ‘Thinking’

How does screen-time affect behavior?

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017 by Karishma Bakshani
child with a tablet

courtesy of pixabay

What would you say if I told you that 15.5% of elementary students, grades 1-5 have been diagnosed with ADHD?  Recent data from the National Health Center showed that as of 2015, 10.2% of children ages 5-15 were diagnosed with ADHD.  From 1980 to 2007, the diagnosis of ADHD in the pediatric population increased by 800 percent!  These dramatic increases indicate that the cause may not just be genetic.  Experts are looking to environmental factors to explain the sharp rise in ADHD among children.  According to Victoria Dunckley, M.D., the answer could be in the palm of your hand.

As reported by Victoria Dunckley, MD, integrative child psychiatrist and author of the book, Reset Your Child’s Brain, technology is having a negative impact on our children’s brain health and development.  Electronic Screen Syndrome (ESS), is the result of over exposure to screens in the forms of video game systems, tablets, and smart phones.  Electronics can overstimulate and deregulate a child’s nervous system.  The added overstimulation and stress cause children to have issues with mood, focus, sleep, and behavior. (Dunckley)

How does Electronic Screen Syndrome affect children?

Constantly interacting with the artificial stimuli that screens supply, shifts the nervous system into a stressed mode.  Our brains and bodies are meant to handle some stress, but repeated stress can overwhelm our body’s ability to adapt.  Usually, high stress levels normalize when followed by an appropriate discharge of energy (think fight or flight).  However, screen time is generally paired with a lot of sitting. Where does the energy go?  According to Dunckley, it gets released in the form of a tantrum or other inappropriate behavior.  Dunckley further points out that if we were to look inside a brain engaged in screen-time, we would see that brain getting too much activity in some areas, such as reward pathways, and not enough in other areas such as the regions associated with empathy.  This leads to fragmented brain development, making it less flexible and resilient. (Dunckley)  One of the strongest impact of screens on the brain is with regards to sleep.  The unnatural, bright light from a smart phone or tablet slows the production of the sleep signal, melatonin.  Lack of melatonin desynchronizes the body clock resulting in poor sleep and disrupted hormone cycles.  In fact, weight gain and high blood pressure related to screen-time could be a result of constantly high stress hormones, as well as being overly sedentary. (Dunckley)

What behaviors are associated with ESS?

  • Irritability
  • Oppositional-defiant behaviors
  • Social immaturity
  • Poor eye contact
  • Insomnia
  • Learning difficulties
  • Poor memory
  • Lack of focus
  • Tantrums
  • Disorganized behaviors

Children with underlying issues such as ADHD and Autism will display more severe versions of the symptoms.   Often these children are more likely to be drawn to screens.  Parents can mistake the kids’ “quiet” behavior while playing on a tablet as improvement.  Try taking the screen away, and you soon realize that the screen was only masking the issues! (Dunckley)

Parents worry that their child  will be the only one without a tablet, or that he won’t make friends, or learn the latest technology.  That is not the case.  For young children the importance of being screen free is to allow their brains to naturally develop strong neuronal connections.  The brain’s most rapid growth is during the first few years of life.  Assaulting those brains with digital media is preventing them from reaching their true potential academically and socially.  Children benefit so much more from human interaction and outdoor play.  Let our children’s brains grow and develop so that they can withstand the effects of the latest technology.

What can parents do to help their children?

  1. Dunckley suggests an electronic fast, 3-4 weeks of strict removal of all electronic media.  Doing so, will help reset your child’s brain, allowing you to focus on what is really going on with your child, without having to deal with the added behavior issues.
  2. Encourage your child to engage in other activities.  Have a family game night.  Help your child find a sports team or club to join.
  3. Brainjogging twice a day can help children get their brains back in sync.  The exercises in Brainjogging target the areas of the brain controlling focus, attention, memory, and processing.  Brainjogging’s simple design and quick exercises make it highly effective for all children.

While most parents start their children on Brainjogging for academic reasons, the first change they notice, is in their child’s behavior.  A child who is out of sync, will have trouble regulating his emotions and behavior.  A child who has made the important connections in the brain is in sync will be more flexible, more resilient, and will demonstrate improved behavior and focus!


Kids who learn music, read better!

Monday, January 16th, 2017 by Karishma Bakshani

Do your still children still have music class in school? If not, you might think about finding a good piano or violin teacher. Studies show that music instruction appears to accelerate brain development in young children, particularly in the areas of the brain responsible for processing sound, language development, speech perception and reading skills.

According to initial results of a five-year study by USC neuroscientists, music instruction speeds up auditory pathway development in the brain and increases its efficiency.  In other words, the neuronal path from the ear to the brain gets stronger.  This process helps accelerate the development of language and reading, two key components to academic success!

So, how can we introduce our kids to music?

1.  Start young!

Sing nursery rhymes and make instruments out of items around the house to make music time a fun time!

2.  Join a Mommy and me music group.

Isn’t everything more fun with friend?  Joining a toddler group will help your baby learn social skills along with an appreciation of music.  It doesn’t hurt that you might make a friend a long the way!

3.  Support music in the schools.

Many school budgets do not support the arts.  Having musical instruction in school is not only great for cognitive development, but also for improving team work, critical thinking, and imagination.  Music class also provides an stress-busting environment for older children who might have a schedule full of tough classes the rest of the day.

4.  If you play an instrument, don’t stop!

If you hear stories about famous singers and musicians, many give acknowledge the fact that their parents played an instrument, or that their dad always had jazz in the background.  It may not always seem like it, but children do model their parents’ behavior.  If we play an instrument or sing around the house, our kids are more likely to do the same!

5.  Find a good music teacher.

When your child is old enough, try sending her to an age appropriate music camp, or sign up for piano (or any instrument) lessons.  We can’t force our children to like an instrument, but we can expose them to different forms of music in different environments.  The possibilities are endless!


Five reasons why we need to curb screen time…

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017 by admin

If someone approached you to enroll your child in a social experiment, would you agree?  Probably not.  But that is exactly what we have done for the past decade since the introduction of smart phones and tablets.  With only a handful of studies on the effects of screens, many of us allow our children so much more hours of screen time than is recommended by American Academy of Pediatrics.   We aren’t even sure of the long term effects of daily tablet and smart phone use, and yet statistics show that many of the apps downloaded and 50% of the Netflix accounts are geared towards children.  What’s the big deal you might ask.  Here we go…

1.  Excessive screen time is detrimental to overall health.

Children and adults who spend too much time in front of any type of screen often exercise less.  Even if they are not overeating, lack of exercise can lead to obesity.  In fact, too much exposure to screens, especially at night, can lead to sleep problems that can lead to obesity, attention, and cognitive issues.  Two hours before bedtime, all screens (TV, phones, tablets) need to be turned off and a bedtime routine needs to be established to ensure a good night’s sleep!  Children who get a good night’s sleep are more alert, have better processing, and are less likely to gain excessive weight.

2.  Giving young children screens can lead to behavior issues.

Have you ever gone to the supermarket with your child, and to prevent a meltdown, given her your smartphone?  We all have!  But we all know that rewarding bad behavior with a screen is not going to solve anything.  In fact, you are more likely to have meltdowns from your children if they think you will give them a tablet or phone each time.  What about when you take your child for their annual shots?  Some parents like to distract or comfort children with an app or a video on their phone.  Although the child might stop crying, think about what they missed.  What the child really needed was a warm hug, not an app!

3.  Too much screen time can lead to attention issues.

Did you know that ADHD is ten times more prevalent than it was 20 years ago?  A study from Iowa State University showed that kids ages 6-12 who spent more than 2 hours in front of a screen were more likely to have attention issues in school.  In fact, Demetri Christakis, an expert on children and media consumption, feels the speed and flash of modern video games and TV is a big concern.

“I think that the concern is that the pacing of the program, whether its video games or TV is over stimulating and contributes to attention problems,” Christakis says.
4.  Apps and video games provide TOO MUCH stimulation to developing minds.
 It seems so much easier to put on a story-time app for your toddler than to actually tell her a story.  The child, however, misses out on so much when we do that.  When a mother tells her child a story, the child listens to her mother’s voice, She has to listen for changes in intonation as well as try to read the expression on the faces of the characters in the book.  If her mother is a story-time pro, she might ask the child about the characters’ feelings, or what might happen next!  All these points might seem simple, but they are training the child’s brain to read social cues, to think critically, and to be imaginative.  When a child watches a story on a tablet, the characters move as the story is told.  There is often background music and sound effects.  Also, the child can often touch part of the story to make characters and other parts of the screen move.  All this while the bright light of the tablet is inches from her face!  In this scenario, the child has no chance to use her own imagination.  If she wants to move a long with the story she simply has to push an arrow.  She doesn’t even have to wait for the app’s narrator to finish the sentence.  So many important social skills are missing, when we depend on a tablet to entertain our kids.
5.  Therapies and treatments cannot overcome the effects of video games.
After 30 years of helping children overcome learning difficulties, Shirley Pennebaker has observed the following:  Lack of sleep and over exposure to video games are detrimental to learning!  While Brainjogging can definitely help a child affected by screens and video games, the child must STOP playing video games first.  The next step would be to call Camp Academia and get the child on Brainjogging.


Do Brain Games work?

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016 by admin

Over the past couple years, people have been turning to apps such as Luminosity in the hopes of improving memory and reversing the effects of aging on the brain. Unfortunately, none of the studies done on these games show any strong evidence or measured real-world outcomes. In fact, in October 2014 a group of more than 70 scientists published an open letter objecting to the marketing claims made by brain training companies. Soon after, another group of scientists published a letter saying there was a scientific basis!  Confusing, right!?

Not really.  Daniel Simons, a professor at the University of Illinois, reviewed over 130 studies with six other scientists to understand the discrepancies.  What they concluded was the following:

1.  Some brain games only work in making you better at that specific game.  The skills learned aren’t transferable to real-life situations.

2.  In many of the studies, the placebo effect wasn’t accounted for.  In other words, many people improved simply because they were trying harder or were more confident.

3.  Most of these brain games do not work the brain hard enough or over a long enough period of time.

BUT WAIT!  What about BrainJogging!?  Brainjogging can counter all three of the points mentioned above!

1.  Information entered into the Brainjogging program is customized to person.  Individuals who do the cognitive exercises are using information they need in school and in their everyday lives!

2.  Brainjogging has helped individuals improve processing, memory, and attention for the past 35 years!  Studies have been done in the University of Tennessee, The Boys and Girls Club, and other locations.  This doesn’t include the hundreds of students who have come to Camp Academia to have Brainjogging sessions.   Children have come with dyslexia, ADHD, processing issues and autism.  All of these individuals have been able to overcome cognitive deficits and lead productive lives. What better study could there be?

3.  As for the last point, Brainjogging works specific areas of the brain.  By targeting the areas of the brain needed for language, processing, and reading, Brainjogging is more effective than a brain video game that simply has the individual striving to get a higher score.   When done twice a day, Brainjogging helps individuals process information faster and retain the information as well!

So to answer the question:  Do brain games work?  No!  But BrainJogging does!  Brainjogging is not a “game”.  It is a cognitive therapy that helps strengthen weak neuronal connections by doing exercises created to target specific areas in the brain.


Brain Game Claims Fail a Big Scientific Test, Jon Hamilton, NPR, Oct. 3, 2016


Follow the Leader!

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016 by admin

Learning to follow directions is an important part of the learning process. For children with learning disabilities this can be even more difficult especially if they have processing or focus issues. Teachers often use direct instruction in which the teacher models what is being taught and then the students copy and practice what was modeled to learn the new information.

But what if we reversed the process and had the students model and the teacher follow? Would these students be able to explain and model the concepts?

When students are only taught through direct instruction, they are missing out on a stage of learning that requires critical thinking and application of knowledge. For special educators, the goal should be to have the children be able to learn and think on their own.

For students who have shown the ability to easily learn what their teacher has modeled, the next step would be to have the student model the lesson back to the teacher, or even better, he could teach another student!

This method of teaching gives the student a chance to use social skills, critical thinking, and of course working memory! More than just memorizing different lessons in school, we want our kids to be able to apply what they learned towards achieving goals!

For students who are not at the point where they are able to explain important concepts learned in school, Brainjogging is the answer.  Doing Brainjogging twice a day helps strengthen cognitive weaknesses that make processing new information and applying key concept difficult for some students.

Resources:  “Follow the leader: Letting students take ownership”, Pamela Hill,  December 5, 2016

Is Screen Time Worth the “Quiet time”?

Friday, October 21st, 2016 by admin

Screens are everywhere! Even as we enter a bookstore, we see a variety of tablets and big HD screens playing the latest movie releases. But, when all is said and done, are the 30 minutes of quiet time we get from giving a child a smart phone or iPad a good exchange?

There are emergency situations that pop up, and as parents we need to do what is right for our children based our individual situations.  But what about our daily regular daily routines?  What are we trying to accomplish by giving a child a smart phone? Maybe we want a quiet dinner, or we want to be able to finish cleaning the kitchen.  We might need some extra time to respond to work emails. And we should be able to have time to do these important tasks. But when we give a child an iPad at dinner, he may be quiet, but he is missing an important part of growing up! The interaction children get at dinner when they can sit with their family in a safe environment and discuss the day’s events is important for social development.

Instead of turning on Netflix while you clean, maybe have an activity they can work on in the kitchen. Better yet, divide the chores according to age and everyone is able to help clean the kitchen faster!

Responding to work emails is trickier! If you can’t wait until the kids are sleeping, maybe you can respond during homework time, and let the kids know that you have work to complete as well.

When a child is misbehaving at the supermarket, will giving him a smartphone solve the problem? Probably not. The child has learned that the reward for misbehaving is getting to play on your smart phone!  Instead, plan on quick trips to the store or make a list with your child to make your food shopping a fun learning experience too.  The supermarket is a great place to talk about eating healthy, letters, counting, money,  manners, and more!

Numerous studies have shown that children who play games on iPads and smartphones, talk later, have less focus and attention, and can even have delays in basic motor skills. Have you ever tried to take an iPad away from a 5 year old? The hour it takes to bargain with your child to get the iPad back makes the 30 minutes of quiet seem irrelevant!

The next time you need to occupy your children to get work done, take a second to think of the pros and cons before handing them a screen.  If you can’t think of any other activity, I’ve given you a list below!

Here is a list of some activities they could do instead (there are a lot more!):

  1. Read a book/listen to an audiobook
  2. Play a board game with siblings.
  3. Pick up their toys.
  4. Play outside.
  5. Call Grandma.
  6. Help with chores.
  7. Help younger siblings learn something new.
  8. Bake cookies.
  9. Find different colored leaves and press them in books.
  10. Call a friend over to play.
  11. Go to a friends house to play.
  12. Write a story.
  13. Paint
  14. Help cook dinner.
  15. Go for a run or bike ride.
  16. Play doh.
  17. Legos/blocks
  18. Workbooks
  19. Make a fort/play in a tent.
  20. Write a letter/draw a picture for Santa.




What’s Recess?!?

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016 by admin

What seems like a silly question, is actually a warning sign for where our children are headed. Can you imagine a day without recess? In many schools across the country recess has been shortened and even eliminated to make more time for teachers to prepare their students for the many standard exams they are required to take each year. In fact, physical education (P.E.) classes have been reduced as well. Many schools offer P.E. only once a week!

On the surface, you might agree that to improve test scores, children need to study more. However, how can children learn if they are fidgeting in their seats and are unable to focus due to lack of exercise? Giving children time to run around and play with their peers in an unstructured environment is NOT a waste of time. In fact, scheduling such activities into the school day can actually IMPROVE academic performance in our schools!

In a study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,  8- and 9-year-old students were recruited for an after-school exercise program.  Half the students were put on a waiting list and did not attend the program.  The other half attended the after school program where they played games and received instruction on various sports’ techniques.

At the end of the study, the students who attended the program were not only leaner and healthier, but their scores on cognitive exams showed the most improvement!  The students who did not exercise improved, but not by a lot.  The study showed that as children develop, their cognitive skills develop as well.  However, children who participate in regular physical activity are more likely to show greater cognitive development as they grow older.


How does exercise improve brain health and cognition?

The answer is surprisingly simple!  Exercise increases blood flow to the brain which helps enhance various functions.  As a result, exercise promotes the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus which controls memory and learning.  In addition, the brain produces more BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor) that helps protect and repair memory cells.  Exercise also boosts the production of various chemicals called neurotransmitters that help with mood.  Overall, exercise clears a foggy brain, and prepares it to learn and grow!

How can we encourage our children to get more physical activity?

1.  Sign them up for a local sports team.

2.  Swap screen time for backyard or playground time.

3.  Register for a local 5k together.

4.  Take tennis (or any sport) lessons as a family.

While preparing our children for academic success is important, if our children are not given enough time to exercise and play, we will not see their true potential as students, and as contributing members of our communities!


“How Exercise Can Boost Young Brains”, The New York Times

“Seven Surprising Benefits of Exercise”, Time

The Real Deal on Screens

Monday, September 19th, 2016 by admin

Is it me or is there an app and screen for every moment in our lives? My two year old doesn’t know the alphabet! There’s an app for that! Our baby won’t stop crying! There’s an app for that! But, what if the “app” cannot be found in our phone’s app store. What if the real “app” was within us all along!

Digital media, in particular tablets, seem to be taking over our children’s lives. At a young age, children are exposed to YouTube videos of nursery rhymes, “educational” apps, and endless cartoons that can be repeated with just a touch of the screen!  (Trust me, I’ve been there!)  But what we see as entertainment and convenience is really changing our child’s brain and in fact making it more difficult to parent!

Time and again, peer-review studies have shown that kids raised on a high-tech diet struggle with attention and focus.  Creators of “educational” video games claim that students no longer have the attention span for traditional learning.  However, giving students lessons on tablets is not helping the problem, it is making it worse!  These children are only motivated and focused in front of a screen.  They aren’t able to engage and stay focused in normal every-day tasks.  Dr. Kentaro Toyama, from the University of Michigan’s School of Information found in his research that technology helps education when the educational system is already doing well.  Unfortunately, it does little for mediocre systems, and even worse in dysfunctional schools.  Dr. Toyama states, that technology “can cause outright harm” in these schools.

At a young age, exposure to screens can be extremely harmful.  Through the release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine, the brain’s “motivation chemical”, babies and toddlers are conditioned to focus only when given the immediate rewards or feedback found in technology.  And while you might claim that you only allow your toddler to watch educational shows, in reality, children under 2 do not understand how the world they see on a screen relates to reality.  Young children need to interact directly with people and objects around them to fully understand how their world works.

Unfortunately our country’s education system has become highly dependent on technology.  The education technology industry is estimated to become a 60 billion dollar industry by 2018!  The convenience of giving each student a tablet, that can be updated within seconds, seems to have outweighed the risks to our children’s health.  Jane Healy, education psychologist and author of Failure to Connect:  How Computers Affect our Children’s Minds, reports that “time on the computer might interfere with development of everything from the young child’s motor skills to his or her ability to think logically and distinguish between reality and fantasy.”

The future of our families, our country, and in fact our world lies in the minds of our children.  We can encourage new ideas by giving our children tools that develop their skills to think creatively and critically, and to observe the world around them.  So the next time your baby cries, instead of finding the YouTube video for Rock-a-bye Baby, maybe you can put on one of your “old-fashioned” CDs, or even sing the song yourself!


Screens in Schools are a $60 Billion Hoax, Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, Time, August 31, 2016

Screen Addiction is Taking a Toll on Children, The New York Times, July 6, 2015

Wired Kids:  How Screen Time Affects Children’s Brains,

Here’s why we need to provide much needed support for children living in poverty!

Thursday, September 15th, 2016 by admin

Imagine living on a street filled with gangs and crime, going to school where teachers have no expectations of your potential, and then coming home to arguing, overworked parents. Unfortunately, that is reality for many children in America. Children living in poverty often have to deal with violence and malnutrition, and these factors contribute to physical changes in the brain regions involved with memory, decision making, impulse control, and judgement.

Why does this happen? Our body’s stress-response system has a direct connection to our brain development. Living in neighborhoods filled with violence and trauma causes the stress hormones, cortisol and epinephrine to be constantly released. These children’s brains are constantly in a state of flight-or-flight! Chronic stress impedes brain development and leaves the brain constantly disorganized.

The GOOD NEWS is there is a way to counter these negative effects!
1.  A strong support system at home and school gives children a sense of security. A child who comes home to loving, supportive parents can learn coping mechanisms and does not have to be in a constant state of stress.

2.  Schools can provide classes in social skills, empathy, and stress-relieving methods

3.  Cognitive behavioral therapy such as Brainjogging, can help to reduce the achievement gap in poorer communities.  Don’t underestimate the plasticity of the human brain.  When the right areas of the brain are targeted, new neural connections can be created!  Now you have a child who can learn and succeed!



Newsweek August 2016, “Growing up poor is so stressful, it can affect brain development” Erika Hayasaki

A Milestone in Language Processing!

Thursday, February 4th, 2016 by admin

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 9.51.36 AM


Yesterday one of our students made a clear transition from Autism to Language Processing! You’re probably wondering how this could happen!? Well, in autism, individuals have little to no comprehension and do not really understand riddles, puns, or jokes. This student was taught the joke:

Why was six afraid of seven?

Answer: Because seven ate (8) nine!

When he first heard the joke, he took it literally. “I know 7, 8, 9!” But when asked, “Can seven EAT nine? “, he started to laugh!!! And now he tells everyone his new joke!

Riddles are a wonderful method for teaching this transition! Find your old joke books or search online for children’s riddles and jokes to enhance your child’s cognitive skills!