Park City presentation will focus on electronics and the teenage brain
Dr. Christy Kane, a clinical mental health counselor, has a message to families regarding their electronic devices: They are neurologically delaying the brain development of modern-day youths.
“Kids today are developing at a slower pace than prior generations because of what they are engaging in,” said Kane, whose research is based in generational changes and trends, with an emphasis on examining the neurological pieces of the brain. “You hear the stories of 6-year-olds driving a team of horses in the early 1900s. Their world was so much more hands-on and tactile, which is part of the brain development process.”
Kane will speak about the issue at 6 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 10, at the Park City Library’s Jim Santy Auditorium, 1255 Park Ave. The event, which is free and open to the public, is presented through a partnership of Wasatch Pediatrics, the Summit County Health Department, the Summit County Mental Wellness Alliance and Communities that Care.
In addition to differences regarding electronics between children today and in the early 1900s, earlier generations socialized and lived in small homes where much of their activities involved physically being together, according to Kane.
“Many of the younger generation today live in huge homes, which make it easy to be pulled away into isolation,” she said. “Research indicates that kids spend more time alone than they do with their families, and their involvement in tactile activities has been replaced by involvement in the digital and virtual world.”
The lack of hands-on activities impacts the neurological short-term memory transmitters, which makes it harder for some information to find its way into long-term memory, Kane said.
“If you practice the violin, that tactile consistency of practice creates neurological long-term connections,” she said.
On the other hand, when kids play a video game all day long, they stimulate dopamine, a chemical that is a main component in reward-based behavior, Kane said.
“But the experience doesn’t create a long-term neurological connection,” she said. “It also over-stimulates the brain, creating aggression, depression and anxiety.”
The purpose of Kane’s presentation isn’t to scare parents about their children’s behavior, she said.
“What I want to do is to help parents understand that while mobile phones and other electronics are important and they aren’t going away, they need to help their kids learn to find a balance and use these phones appropriately,” she said.
Dr. Kathy Ostler, a pediatrician at Wasatch Pediatrics, said Kane’s presentation expands on what she tells her young patients and their families.
“I’ve been practicing for 17 years, and I am definitely seeing more anxiety and depression that I believe stem from, in part, electronic device usage,” Ostler said. “When I heard Dr. Kane speak at a meeting in Salt Lake City, I thought we really need to get her up to Park City.”
Kane has always been fascinated with how electronics impact the brain.
“That’s what my dissertation was about,” she said. “As our medical technology has increased, we have been able to see mental health issues from more of a neurological and biological perspective. And I think that helps remove shame when we can see that actual mental health is as real as other medical issues such as cancer in how it biologically changes the body.”
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