Smart Devices… Bad Brains?

Disclaimer: I am not against social media, and in fact you are probably reading this blog on an electronic device right now. I like my Iphone. I have a Twitter “handle”, an Instagram page, a Pinterest page and a Facebook page. I like to play the occasional Xbox game.

The key is moderation, and the scales have tipped WAY out of balance (especially for our children).

Let’s start with some (SAD) statistics, shall we? Kids ages 8-12 years old use an average of 6 hours worth of entertainment media daily (not including for school). Children aged 13-18 spend an average of 9 hours on entertainment media daily. (2015 Common Sense Census: Media Use by Teens and Tweens).

That should give us EXTREME pause.

We have heard countless times that staring at our smartphones all the time can be dangerous and bad for our health… but why?

-I’m not going to talk about the potentially dangerous electromagnetic waves being emitted, I’m not going to talk about eye strain with staring at the screen, I’m not going to talk about the potential for cyber-bullying.

-I am going to talk about your brain.


-First up in the brain drain game: stress. When we are constantly getting “dings” and vibrations and push-notifications about the latest sale at the local pet-store, (or the little sentence that someone we don’t know who is friends with someone we barely knew in middle school liked our picture of our cat) the signal causes a stress response in our bodies. This stress response could be anticipation/hopeful of a text from our spouse, our child, or an alarm reminding us to go to the grocery store. But there’s more to it.

Each time a notification rings, it causes a “stopping and switching” action in our brains. We stop whatever task we were doing, switch gears to receiving new information and then process to try to start back to what we were doing before our app decided to tell us about the discounted rawhides.

Every time we change tasks, a bit of the stress hormone cortisol is released, causing our blood pressure to rise, our heart rate to increase, our digestion to slow and switches off our prefrontal cortex (our highest brain center) and we stimulate the more primitive parts of our brains.

Excessive social media use has been linked to depression and suicide. A study showed that kids who spent more than three hours per day were 34% more likely to suffer at least one suicide related outcome, and kids who used electronic devices five or more hours were 48% more likely to do so. (Check out this AMAZING post for more info and advice on how to talk to your children about this)

The little notifications we get (or constantly get when we swipe down on social media—ever notice how you NEVER hit the bottom no matter how much you scroll) trigger a flight or fight response; and the kicker is, we don’t do either. We aren’t going to fight, and we aren’t going to run so the stress response does NOTHING beneficial for our health… it does release a little dopamine which can feel good but is also quite addicting. (Dopamine is linked to other addictions such as gambling, and cocaine use).

Also, the posture we assume when holding our phones is a forward-flexed one. We look down and forward, roll our shoulders forward and compress our spines.


Besides looking like a hunch-back, this posture is even more detrimental to our brains. Forward flexed posture (especially continual forward flexion) has been shown to shut down our prefrontal cortex even more. It also shuts down parts of our “right brain”, the part of our brain that deals with emotion, laughter, creativity, empathy, and our social drive.

So using our smart phones too much can cause decreased higher brain function, make us less creative, and less empathetic, increase primitive brain function, and make us LESS social (ironic right? Social media overuse = we become less social).

But…The BIGGEST travesty of the smartphone craze doesn’t end there. Perhaps the most detrimental effects of the overuse of smart-devices is what they stop us from doing… PLAYING/MOVING.


Movement is life, especially for our children. When we are staring at our devices, we are mainly stimulating the Occipital and Temporal lobes of our brains (the parts responsible for audio and visual) and our entire frontal lobe is on snooze. Movement (especially in a lateral/side to side movement along with flexion) helps us create new neural pathways, improves mental and physical health, normalizes our immune system, decreases stress and allows for VITALITY.


Using our (or letting our children use their) smartphones too much causes neck flexion (reducing our normal curves, straining muscles, pulling on the spinal cord, increasing pressure to the intervertebral discs, causes degeneration in the spine), over-stimulates the temporal and occipital lobes, reduces the activity of our frontal lobes, shuts down our higher learning/decision making centers of our brains, increases the activity of our primitive brains, increases cortisol and dopamine secretion, causing us to be less empathetic, less creative, less active, less healthy and less social.

So what do we do: First off, emulate! We can’t tell our kids to put down the device while we are getting calloused thumbs from over-scrolling. Next: EDUCATE our kids. Share this info with them. Respect that they will probably want to make the best decisions for their life as well. And if not, be their parent! Put restrictions on the time spent with their devices. Use a real clock for an alarm, rather than their phone.

Have family game nights (once a week/every 2 weeks isn’t too much to ask is it?) Go for walks, climb some hills, smile, laugh, CONNECT.

The fact of the matter is, we probably need our devices in this day and age, at least we know they aren’t going anywhere. But we can decide to use the “smart-devices” smarter, and than actually equates to using them less.

In addition, we can work on re-righting the scales by not leaning so heavily (forward) into artificial connections, and instead lean back into true, real-life experiences.

Move Well. Think Well. Be Well.

Dr. Joel Lindeman

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