The Bulletin

Understanding Kids: Pushing the Reset Button

In our series of parent education perspectives comes this analysis from Victoria L. Dinckley, M.D. for Psychology Today Magazine. Dr. Dunckley is an award-winning integrative child psychiatrist and is also the author of the book  "Reset Your Child's Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-TimeRead her article about the effects of screens on child behaviors and cognitive development:


Screentime Is Making Kids Moody, Crazy and Lazy

"Psychology Today Magazine,"  published: August 18th, 2015

Children or teens who are “revved up” and prone to rages or—alternatively—who are depressed and apathetic have become disturbingly commonplace. Chronically irritable children are often in a state of abnormally high arousal, and may seem “wired and tired.” That is, they’re agitated but exhausted. Because chronically high arousal levels impact memory and the ability to relate, these kids are also likely to struggle academically and socially.

At some point, a child with these symptoms may be given a mental-health diagnosis such as major depression, bipolar disorder, or ADHD, and offered corresponding treatments, including therapy and medication. But often these treatments don’t work very well, and the downward spiral continues.

What’s happening?

Both parents and clinicians may be “barking up the wrong tree.” That is, they’re trying to treat what looks like a textbook case of mental disorder, but failing to rule out and address the most common environmental cause of such symptoms—everyday use of electronics. Time and again, I’ve realized that regardless of whether there exists any “true” underlying diagnoses, successfully treating a child with mood dysregulation today requires methodically eliminating all electronics use for several weeks—an “electronics fast” —to allow the nervous system to “reset.”

If done correctly, this intervention can produce deeper sleep, a brighter and more even mood, better focus and organization, and an increase in physical activity. The ability to tolerate stress improves, so meltdowns diminish in both frequency and severity. The child begins to enjoy the things they used to, is more drawn to nature, and imaginary or creative play returns. In teens and young adults, an increase in self-directed behavior is observed—the exact opposite of apathy and hopelessness.

It’s a beautiful thing.

At the same time, the electronic fast reduces or eliminates the need for medication while rendering other treatments more effective. Improved sleep, more exercise, and more face-to-face contact with others compound the benefits—an upward spiral! After the fast, once the brain is reset, the parent can carefully determine how much if any electronics use the child can tolerate without symptoms returning.

Restricting electronics may not solve everything, but it’s often a missing link in treatment when kids are stuck.  

But why is the electronic fast intervention so effective? Because it reverses much of the physiological dysfunction produced by daily screen time. 

Children’s brains are much more sensitive to electronics use than most of us realize. In fact, contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t take much electronic stimulation to throw a sensitive and still-developing brain off track. Also, many parents mistakenly believe that interactive screen-time—Internet or social media use, texting, emailing, and gaming—isn’t harmful, especially compared to passive screen time like watching TV. In fact, interactive screen time is more likely to cause sleep, mood, and cognitive issues, because it’s more likely to cause hyperarousal and compulsive use.  


Six ways electronic screen time makes kids angry, depressed and unmotivated...


Here’s a look at six physiological mechanisms that explain electronics’ tendency to produce mood disturbance:  

1. Screen time disrupts sleep and desynchronizes the body clock

Because light from screen devices mimics daytime, it suppresses melatonin, a sleep signal released by darkness. Just minutes of screen stimulation can delay melatonin release by several hours and desynchronize the body clock. Once the body clock is disrupted, all sorts of other unhealthy reactions occur, such as hormone imbalance and brain inflammation. Plus, high arousal doesn’t permit deep sleep, and deep sleep is how we heal.

2. Screen time desensitizes the brain’s reward system

Many children are “hooked” on electronics, and in fact gaming releases so much dopamine—the “feel-good” chemical—that on a brain scan it looks the same as cocaine use. But when reward pathways are overused, they become less sensitive, and more and more stimulation is needed to experience pleasure. Meanwhile, dopamine is also critical for focus and motivation, so needless to say, even small changes in dopamine sensitivity can wreak havoc on how well a child feels and functions.

3. Screen time produces “light-at-night”

Light-at-night from electronics has been linked to depression and even suicide risk in numerous studies. In fact, animal studies show that exposure to screen-based light before or during sleep causes depression, even when the animal isn’t looking at the screen. Sometimes parents are reluctant to restrict electronics use in a child’s bedroom because they worry the child will enter a state of despair—but in fact removing light-at-night is protective.  

4. Screen time induces stress reactions

Both acute stress (fight-or-flight) and chronic stress produce changes in brain chemistry and hormones that can increase irritability. Indeed, cortisol, the chronic stress hormone, seems to be both a cause and an effect of depression—creating a vicious cycle. Additionally, both hyperarousal and addiction pathways suppress the brain’s frontal lobe, the area where mood regulation actually takes place.

5. Screen time overloads the sensory system, fractures attention, and depletes mental reserves

Experts say that what’s often behind explosive and aggressive behavior is poor focus. When attention suffers, so does the ability to process one’s internal and external environment, so little demands become big ones. By depleting mental energy with high visual and cognitive input, screen time contributes to low reserves. One way to temporarily “boost” depleted reserves is to become angry, so meltdowns actually become a coping mechanism.

6. Screen-time reduces physical activity levels and exposure to “green time”

Research shows that time outdoors, especially interacting with nature, can restore attention, lower stress, and reduce aggression. Thus, time spent with electronics reduces exposure to natural mood enhancers.


In today’s world, it may seem crazy to restrict electronics so drastically. But when kids are struggling, we’re not doing them any favors by leaving electronics in place and hoping they can wind down by using electronics in "moderation." It just doesn't work. In contrast, by allowing the nervous system to return to a more natural state with a strict fast, we can take the first step in helping a child become calmer, stronger, and happier.  ---

The article can be read at its source:
Psychology Today Magazine website

Photo: Chubykin Arkady/Shutterstock Top: pathdoc/fotolia

Betrayal, murder & other bad behaviors in the 8th grade play

Dear Friends and Families of Chicago Waldorf School,    You are invited to attend:

You’re A Dead Man, Charlie Brown

                Friday, April 1st & Saturday, April 2nd, at 7:30pm

                in the CWS Auditorium  /  1300 W. Loyola Avenue


Broadway’s Planter’s Theatre is set to present a revival of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” when, on opening night, the lead actor is murdered. How could this be? Will the show actually go on? And who dunnit? Follow along as Inspector Doyle O’Connor of the NYPD is called in to unravel this tangled web of deceit, betrayal, murder, and other forms of bad behavior. Enjoy listening to some of the songs and dances (frequently interrupted) of the original play.

Come and enjoy the antics for April Fools Day!

This play was originally written by 8th grade teacher, John Trevillion (with considerable input from his class) in 1995. It was the product, you might say, of a most fortunate accident. In two subsequent productions - in 2003 and 2016 - Mr. Trevillion has solicited further input from the students of those classes, and woven in new material. It has been as much fun to write as it has been to see performed. Come enjoy the twists and turns of the play and support the 8th grade class.

Between Act refreshments will be served. This play is for ages 10 years old and up
Admission is free, but donations toward the 8th grade class fund are welcome.

Thanks to 8th grader, Katherine Norquist for the lovely poster art.

Joy is a Jam Donut, You Make Yourself

Kendall College Master Baker Visits Waldorf

The Middle School's 7th grade recently participated in a baking workshop in which they learned the professional processes, procedures and nutritional science behind baking...all in service to concocting a fun confection similar to the Jelly Donut. 

This workshop is a typical component of the German class curriculum. Whats the connection, you ask? Well in fact the students were making "Berliner Pfannkuchen" a classic pastry bun that is traditionally prepared and served in Germany for New Year's Eve ("Silvester") and also for the carnival holidays ("Rosenmontag" and "Fat Tuesday").

As is essential to the Waldorf curriculum, students literally learned by DOING (mixing, kneading, punching, waiting, rolling, cutting, forming, baking, preparing, filling, glazing, sprinkling and waiting some more...all in service to the final payoff...EATING and ENJOYING!)


Between the optimist and the pessimist, the difference is droll. The optimist sees the doughnut; the pessimist the hole!             – Oscar Wilde


Special thanks to Master Baker, Melina Kelson-Podolsky who led the students through the workshop that she normally teaches at the prestigious Kendall College Pastry program. In addition to being one of only a handful of Certified Master Bakers in the United States, Kelson-Podolsky sits on the board of directors of the Bread Baker’s Guild of America.

In the Waldorf workshop, various aspects of baking science were analyzed and practiced as well as observations made by CWS German teacher, Frau Gambill, about the many variations in presentation and donut forms that range across cultures (After all a Berliner is not the same as a jelly donut, which is not the same as a Bavarian Cream nor a Kitchener Bun. Long Johns and Bismarks are different than "Jambusters" and "Burlington Buns." Its interesting how every culture identifies its pastries differently by cultural heritage...and lets not even get started on the diverse cultural backgrounds behind the humble and ubiquitous "dumpling.")

Note: To enlarge the images in the slide show above simply click on them.