“…Disconnecting with technology to reconnect with ourselves is absolutely essential…”

This week’s #WellnessWednesday message comes from our Learning Support Specialist, Ms Ghida Bernard. This week we look at why we should consider taking a break from our devices when we can.

For many of us, the COVID pandemic has increased our frequency of use and amount of time spent on devices. Specifically in an educational setting, we have relied heavily on devices in order to enhance the learning process. Although the benefits of this cannot be denied, it is worth considering what other areas of our lives screen time may be changing/impacting.

“It’s not how long we’re using screens that really matters; it’s how we’re using them and what’s happening in our brains in response.”

Dr Michael Rich (associate professor of paediatrics at Harvard Medical School),

Within the growing human brain, neural connections are constantly forming. It relies on a rich variety of input. Digital media can have a direct impact on this process, but is thought to have an ‘impoverished/poor’ quality of input when compared to the real world context, according to Dr Rich.

Many adults and children use devices to manage boredom. Considering the above, it seems that for our brain development it would be more beneficial to create situations where we manage our boredom with what is available in reality, in addition to a virtual context. In my opinion, boredom is a fruitful platform from which creativity/innovation can occur.

Good quality sleep is also thought to be a crucial element in support of brain development. Researchers at the Harvard Medical School have shown that using blue light-emitting screen devices before bedtime, such as smartphones, can disrupt sleep patterns. This is mostly due to the suppression of a hormone called melatonin, which is responsible for regulating our sleep-wake cycles. When considering learning, this is of crucial importance as reduced deep REM sleep interferes with our ability to process and store information that we were exposed to in memory.

Even if they stay awake in algebra class, they may not remember what happened in class yesterday.”

Dr Rich

As the brain of young children and teens are still developing, they do not have fully matured self-control systems which they can access to manage potentially harmful behaviours associated with device use. Thus, parents and guardians should safeguard against potentially harmful effects of device use by becoming more knowledgeable on the subject and helping their children manage their behaviours. It is not considered realistic or helpful to deny children the use of devices, rather the aim should be on the support and reinforcement of healthy behaviours. 

Considering the above, it might be worth re-evaluating our approach to time spent on devices to a more balanced one as we go into our planned August holiday. I am not saying take away all devices and limit their use as that would feel like punishment to many. The aim is not to punish but to support more healthy behaviours associated with screen use, even if it is just one.

The following digital use advice was given by Dr Rich and may be a good starting point for considering a more balanced approach:

“Beware of digital media distraction. Half of all kids and three-quarters of parents feel the other is distracted when talking to each other.

Have regular sit-downs, screen-free meals with your children.

Put down your device. Be present with others. Observe the world around you. Let your mind wander.

Avoid blue light-emitting screen use before bedtime.

Play online games with your children rather than forbidding them. Learn how to play from them and, as you play, help them think about what they’re seeing and doing on screen.

Help your children plan how to spend their time, focusing on important and favourite activities to avoid sliding into the screen abyss.”


Ghida Bernard is a qualified Occupational Therapist registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa. She completed her undergraduate studies in Occupational Therapy (OT) at Stellenbosch and her MSc in Perceptual Disorders (OT) at Wits. At Kingswood College, she assists the learners in the Junior School with additional learning support to fully benefit from the rich learning environment offered. Her special areas of interest include Self-Regulated Learning, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Educational Assessments, Emotional Regulation, Anxiety and Perceptual Disorders. She is a keen trail runner and enjoys music, gardening and art. Her husband is a marine biologist working in Makhanda and they have 3 wire haired pointers called Mungo, Molly and Chicko. The family love the Eastern Cape and plan to stay here long term.

www.aconciousrethink.com A conscious rethink. 7 reasons why finding hope for the future is so important. Accessed July 2020