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Enter our children’s world, discussion on the health impact of excessive screentime with Sue Watson


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008 We continue our discussion around the health impact of extended screentime our children. In this podcast, Sue Watson chats about the science behind screen time and how it affects our children. Sue Watson is a physiotherapist specialing in Craniosacral therapy and focusing on the balance of the nervous systems. Sue considers how we use devices and how the intensity in gaming impacts the nervous system balance. Sue discusses how not all screen time is bad for the children, and it is about the time on the device, which is essential to control. 

Key learnings:

  1. Aim to be in a regulated position understanding the high and lows due to overstimulation.

  2. Invest in time to let your children be your coach, engaging with them.

  3. We need to enter your children’s world, create the connection.

  4. Prioritise getting your children outside to balance the intensity of the screen.

  5. Time in the outdoors will allow us to limit the choice, which is essential as one negative aspect of the screen is the impact on attention span and children flitting from one thing to the next.   

  6. Curiosity is an essential element in our children’s wellbeing. 

  7. Consider the sensory aspects when outdoors.

Sue Watson works in Central Scotland, north England but also run virtual classes and consultations. Connect with Sue on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/suewatson.cst/

Sue Watson


Podcast Transcription


Welcome to the inspired and active Podcast

where we want to motivate and inspire you to be more active in the outdoors. We discuss and consider why people today are less active, not as engaged in their doors and suggest and offer ideas and practical assistance with video workshops, events, toolkits to give you the confidence in the outdoors. I’m John Campbell, and it’s great to be back for another episode of the inspired and active podcast. today. We welcome Sue Watson. And we want to continue our discussion on screen time and we look at the impact screentime has no children and look at just different a different aspect to this and look at it from a health and from a more science-based approach and how we can engage and connect with our children. So let’s get into the conversation. 

Hello everybody. I’m here. Today with Sue Watson, a good friend of mine I know and sue for many years and great respect in her knowledge around this area. Last week, we’ve talked about the digital balance. We talked about the impact of screen time. And today, we just want to have a conversation with Sue. About the science and how this really impacts us. Sue is a physiotherapist in craniosacral therapy and a specialist in movement. And it’s great to welcome you to the podcast. How are you doing?
I’m great. Thank you. It’s good to be here.

Can give us or give our kind of audience a bit of a background about Sue Watson, and what you do and how you’ve come to be where you are today?

Okay, So, I started my career as a chartered physiotherapist which took me to many places. Probably about 20 years ago. I got quite disillusioned with practising physiotherapy. And I became much more interested and more interested in around why injuries and conditions were happening. The underlying reason for it, which took me to craniosacral therapy. So cranial sacral therapy is a light switch hands-on treatment that really focuses on balancing the nervous system in a nutshell. So that maybe that somebody comes in, very stressed. Many of the conditions that people come to see me, with have an underlying cause that the stress is the thing that really compounds a problem or even presents it in the first place. I run movement through it. So bringing in my physiotherapy background, I also use movement within the therapy, which is more unusual. And in a nutshell, it’s about helping to settling nervous system. And if somebody is in a state of stress, then having a settled nervous system allows them to get a sense of perhaps underlying causes and reasons for them. The reason they’re coming to see me.

I think that’s interesting because I think this is all about when we’re talking about screen time and digital balance, which is what we’re keen on and inspired an active community and just understanding this whole piece of how, we this the chemical makeup the nervous system balance that has that must have a big kind of impact on children today with with screen time.

Absolutely. Yes! And I think you know, Our whole health and well being. If you could bring it round to one thing which I know we can’t, but that balance of your nervous system that the activation but the ability to be able to settle. And we also No, that has been able to regulate ourselves. So as children, we have tantrums, we have challenges, we have difficulties. And by learning how to regulate ourselves, then we can soothe ourselves. And I think that’s where with screentime with parents have a really important role in being able to educate our children and perhaps even ourselves for those of addicted to Facebook and everything else. Other means of digital exposure, being able to sense that within ourselves and be able to regulate is the crux of I think what we’re talking about.
Absolutely. You have kids yourself? how active are they on their devices?

Right now? very active. Yeah. So they have daughter has probably come out of her mid teens to probably less active on her social media but yeah, as a 13 to 16 year old going through that puberty where their minds are just like sponges, taking all the information that they can then actually I think having time in the outdoors for her now is starting to come back round two that’s where she wants to spend her time. And, that balance is more apparent whereas when she was a teens it was worrying Bhima for me my first child that was quite worried

Right well, that’s good to know they do come out of it. And then, and you read a lot of it this is so much written about the activation of your Dopermin and these kind of chemicals is one of the basics around what happens when a child sits down and spends three hours doing some War gaming on an Xbox, what was the activation?

I think first of all to understand what dopermin mean does in the first place and not just for the children. But for all of us, So don’t worry doper means a neurotransmitter. So that’s a chemical that’s produced. Initially, the suggestion that it was just produced in the brain, but we now know it’s also produced in the gut, which is a whole line of science at the moment, which is really interesting. So dopamine is a stim stimulator. And it allows us to move, it aids our memory, It rewards us. It is also produced when we have pleasurable experiences. 

And, We all have this. We all have that as well. Absolutely. So it’s not just kids playing, you know, we’re all relying on this to make us feel good to function. And a classic example of when it all goes wrong is with people with Parkinson’s disease. So they have movement difficulties, they have memory difficulties, they have difficulty having as much pleasure and reward out of activities that they may be once once did. And also the attention is challenged. And, We all have a standard level of dopermin that kind of on your day to day, I presumed we do. But when we do sport or when we really do something exciting to us. We all feel good. And there’s that.

Yeah. That can give it that. So the pleasure, the excitement, and I think sometimes we get hooked upon on that aspect of dopamine. And the fact, that we need it for every movement that we make is also really important. So, sometimes I think it does get something bad press in the way of screen time because it is an essential chemical. 

So, I presume we’re in there, on the screen. where they’re exerting extra making or their bodies more dominant. So they’re on a high effectively. And that is the big challenge, that if they’re playing that for an extended period of time, They’re having a motivational, unexperienced that is really?

Yeah, I think one of the things that it’s that motivational side of it’s a Swindon experience. When an experienced, is really exquisite or very sensory or Intense. When the experience is very intense, then the dopamine reward is great. And one of the challenges around screen time is the fact that the games are incredibly intense. So when we take our experience, You and I, we might get pleasure out of things that seem sort of terribly mundane and boring to a child because they’ve had this level of intensity. And I can relate to that, having a rough time for a long time. And, with this level of intensity, the experience of a day out, that was second to none. It was exquisite. And I know that it’s partly the dopamine and the serotonin and also have very much been in the moment which is something that is in gaming.

I can see that. And I can see when my son who’s 13 before and he’s into his Xbox and he plays it for extended periods. And he comes off on initially quite high but then he’s in a real mood coming out of that high or that experience, because of the chemical imbalance, what is that somebody we as parents should be monitoring concerned about? So they have it an understanding of what happens, so it’s not just the dopa but what will also be happening in a stimulate when the body’s stimulated, we can go into something called sympathetic arousal. Our nervous system has a part called our autonomic nervous system. All the time, it balances the sympathetic and parasympathetic. I know they’re techy words. But being able to have been able to use that language is maybe helpful to understand that that’s happening all the time, this balance of sympathetic, parasympathetic. But when we are overstimulated, then we have more of sympathetic arousal and when we’re in that state, our stress hormones are probably a bit more active and what you’re talking about their journeys as, as we stopped doing that activity, what’s important is to be able to regain that balance. So when we get stuck in that sympathetic arousal, that’s where the difficulty arises. And that’s maybe what’s happening

Could it be and as anything, is a difficult question. There’s no right answer to this but what can you do to try and get that balance, when they come off? Is it because, typically, it’s my boy, he often comes off as Xbox and we might be watching television at that point. And he sits down and watches television with us, which could stimulate, even depending on the program is back into a different stimulus. So it’s just one thing after the other, and it’s difficult to hit that balance.

I suppose that’s where for older children, recognizing for themselves what that more balanced state feels like. And I think that’s probably if we were to introduce that kind of language, in that understanding, at quite an early age, then they will be great if they could start to feel that for themselves. I mean, for my son, when he was younger, I know that we had conversations around. It’s that whole sense of being able to soothe themselves and when they come off a game and they’re excited, they’re perhaps if they’ve lost the game, and that’s challenging for them. It’s how they’ve been able to soothe themselves. And that goes back to early childhood and working out ways that the parent can help support the child. And that’s about co-regulation. So the adult having an understanding of the difficulty, rather than challenging it is to be in a regulated position themselves.

Now, that’s a really interesting point you made up there about us challenging because I’m sure I’m speaking for many parents out there that I get frustrated. And I get angry is the wrong word. But my frustration comes out on on my children because I want them off the green game station that want them to do other stuff. And that challenge attitude that we all have, maybe that’s not the best thing. Maybe we’ve got to engage with that. What’s your opinion?

Yeah, that’s a very interesting one. Because I think if we mix things up, and I read an interesting paragraph this week, about just really taking our belief. So if we believe that gaming is detrimental, then that’s a challenge detailed and what happens when we get challenged is we get stressed about it because there’s a lack of understanding, not that the children were thinking that necessarily but that that that will come out in their nervous system. But if we can mix that up and look at the benefits of of gaming, then there are some great benefits from it. But the difficulty is the length of time that it goes on for so by challenging our own, but if our own belief is that the gaming is a bad thing, by going to the opposite end of that the other extreme and looking into actually what are the the the benefits of gaming, then that can give us a more balanced approach ourselves, or a more balanced understanding. It might also allow for you to feel a child to feel that they’re that you understand them. So perhaps even do something like that. So the article that I read, suggested that rather than just always been on our children’s case about their screen time is actually to understand it, what are they getting out of it, and perhaps invest the time in the activity that they love doing and let let them be your coach so that they can show their skill level that’s going to be infinitely greater than ours. And let them show the skills that they’ve learned. Let them show you the social side of what they’re getting from it.

Yeah, no, I guess I should take that on board. I’m not sure I’d be any good at playing fortnight and I might be able to pick him pretty quickly. But just engaging with them. I have thought to myself that I should let them be the coaches as you’ve said they couldn’t coach me. And that would be good to let me understand it and within our inspired an active community, we are going to start a course on digital balance. And we are going to look at trying to get parents more confident, and digital. And we will include gaming within that to allow us to kind of pick up some of the techniques without maybe being embarrassed by our children totally. But that conversation is really good with it with our children. I might try that. And we’re even over this weekend.

Yeah, I think also, it gives us perspective on what their challenges are about going and doing things that they’re not very good at. So if we have a skill set in the outdoors, because we’re talking about the outdoors, and their mastery is around the digital world. Then actually, if we enter there world, one of the best pieces of advice I was given as a therapist was to enter people’s worlds. If I have a difficulty, especially working with children, and if I enter their world, then I get in. I’m in relationship with them, they can connect to me in a way that they won’t if I don’t enter that world and I think when we enter each other’s worlds, then we create a connection. And that connection is often about what underlies gaming in the first place. They could connection through their friends, they get connection through feeling good and skilled at something. And all those attributes that they have through gaming,
and we’re not only talking about gaming, because it’s so prevalent that younger children are on iPads and tablets, watching the pepper figs constantly. So it’s they’re getting stimulus not necessarily from the challenge game, but just from the screen and the total addiction to looking at the screen. And this was asked an interesting question about whether this is an addiction. And if you there are people, I believe Who are well versed in this who claim it is. But we won’t go through this in any detail, but I’m interested to have your opinion I think isn’t addiction?

Well, it’s interesting that you should bring in other than gaming because up until now, I guess I’ve just spoken about gaming and the skills that are gained from that. I think something that happens with that’s quite prevalent with YouTube or so using an iPad for stimulation is that inability to stay with your attention for long periods of time? That’s not an answer to addiction.
actually brings up something completely different.

Yeah, no, that’s interesting conversation about the time you’re you’re on it and retention and candy retain thing. We’ll come back to their addiction later. Yeah, I’ll let you off that.

Yeah, so guess what? These two angles, there’s the skill part that we’ve spoken about, They never really seen anything through to the end and having that patience and tolerance for waiting for the end of something. And you know, You and I are grown up when we did, there was only limited TV. And you know, if you wanted to wait for the next program, you had to wait and you had to watch the end of it. Whereas now that everything needs to happen tomorrow. And if you don’t like it, you move on to the next thing that that sense of on demand all the time. That is incredibly stimulating to our sympathetic nervous system and that is very arousing.
I blame Netflix are about this as well because they know you’re going to Netflix and they give you a whole TV screen full of things you could browse through. And it used to be you’d go into a bookshop, you’d love walking through a bookshop, looking at everything. And I suppose, in the digital age, Netflix is doing what we might have enjoyed doing a bookshop browsing through different titles having you look at. But what’s happening on Netflix says, you’re going in for that for five minutes, or that’s not very good. Next one for two minutes. Then you find something that might watch a half an hour. And before you know it, you’ve been sitting there for an hour and a half, and you haven’t watched very much.

Yeah. Well, that’s interesting, because I think that, that brings to mind the importance of being able to be comfortable with our children’s discomfort, which is perhaps another line of the topic really, but maybe even when our children come off gaming, that they have a sense of discomfort, and what do we do with that we try to, to channel it somewhere else. But actually, being uncomfortable is a really important part of life. And even if it’s watching a film to the end, we have to learn how to manage that. That bit of discomfort around having to wait because our children are not good at waiting. But that’s really important lesson in life is and again, that’s about that regulation of universe. The system and the balance. So just thinking about the outdoors and and what we can offer them, perhaps sometimes not given a lot of choice is actually really important. But what’s really important about not having the choice and I’m not saying we shouldn’t ever give our children choice, but sometimes really channeling that focus and breaking it down into finding what there is to be interested. And being curious. Curious is a really, really important part of our brain development. Taking a boring thing and getting curious about it. And about a really mundane task perhaps.

Yeah, no, that that that’s great. You brought in the outdoors because it within inspired and active, that’s what we’re all about. It’s not balanced. It’s trying to get people outdoors and the impact of children not getting outdoors. Whether it’s game time or not, or screen time and not screen time. There’s a real concern that children aren’t getting out. Doors nearly enough, but in terms of balancing screen time, or at the doors to me is a is a real kind of medicine. And we’ve had discussions on this before and you brought in the subject of sensory elements of their doors, which I thought was not something I physically would have thought about because I’m all about getting to climb trees and build shelters but to quite rightly said, what about the sensory side, which I thought was really interesting on that one, if you want to expand on that?

Yeah, so with my craniosacral work in particular and physio. The way I work with physio now is allowing people to bring in people’s awareness to how their bodies move, because if we have a real sense of our self and our ability to move and what it feels like, then we’re much more able to settle our nervous system. Again, it all comes down to that balance of the nervous system. When we move, It’s very calming to our system. So getting outside and moving can be one of the antidotes to, to that intense brain experience. But if we can bring awareness to that, it’s even more helpful. Because then we can give language to it. And as parents, we can talk about it. So we can ask our children how they feel. And they can if they can identify how they feel. Then, that can be helpful. And that, for me, could start at an early age. Now I think there’s that there’s a lot of talks around, being able to identify our emotions, and at an early age, and therefore that gives us emotional intelligence. And I would go as far as to say, What if we can have sensory intelligence? So when you’re climbing the trees, you know, how does that feel? What does that feel like? Not just notice, what the bark feels like. Notice how slippery things are, and it’s okay to take a risk on. That’s maybe a different subject as well, but the slipperiness there. And so I think about walking on ice, how many people are fearful of walking on ice? But actually, that’s a built-in fear if we were if we know what it’s like to be slippery if we know what it’s like to be secure. If we know what it’s like to be all the many different sensations, then it just gives our body a lot. So, for me, I often describe it as being like a library of sensation, the more sensation we have available, then the more choice we have around about how we use that just helps our children have repertoire around experience. And you can even relate that to gaming you know, so are there the devices once you have, once you can have that felt sense of experience, we can then relate it to every aspect of our life and then that gives us a means of relating To our children.

Yeah. So this comes back to the balance because right through the belief. And all we’re doing is this balance between the correct amount of screen time, the correct amount of outdoor time, and the correct amount of exercise. And, we will be talking about in future podcasts, nutrition, because it’s really, important we’ve talked about last week. There were three aspects that we’ve got to look at as well, which is the sleep patterns that are affected by screen time nutrition because the snacking and just that’s important for health and well being. And the exercise we’ve talked about, and this is another layer that we’re talking about the sensory side, which I think is which is fantastic. But, I’m not going to get away with that last question, but an addiction. So, just to finish with what sorts, because I keep on saying to my 13-year-old, you’re going to get addicted to this and, they said: “oh no, no, no not”. Then he’s desperate to go on to the next day, but it’s just a chemical balance of the nervous systems I’m getting from you, but maybe it’s not an addiction?

Well, I think the whole addiction thing is quite contentious. And there will be those people that say it’s highly addictive through the chemical channels. And then you have Gabor Ma Tei, who has written extensively on addiction. And his point of view, Is it’s much more to do with what underlies the reason. That we’re doing things and that often, in his opinion, his “Very Strong opinion”, will come down to connection and the relationship that we have with each other, and the activities that we’re doing.
So I can draw you into the answer of yes or no. I’m not surprised is quite a contentious issue. But no, that would that was interesting as an angle. So I want to thank you very much for coming on the podcast. And if somebody wants to follow up any of your work soon, where should they go?

Yep, so I work in central Scotland and Cumbria in Keswick and but if you want to get hold of me the best place to find me is on Facebook. So that, Sue, what’s in craniosacral therapy? And..

I’ll add that to the podcast notes and on to the website. And we will be working with Sue over the next few months. As we pull together the Economic Community course that we’re doing and we’ll look forward to talking about movement is another area that you very much specialize in. And, and we’ll continue on the discussion about what is actually behind the screen time. So thanks a lot. 


I hope you enjoyed the discussion with Sue to get her opinion on screen time and just an expert insight into what our children are feeling and some of the causes the particular takeaway I took was entering into their world. And, experiencing, what they’re experiencing and letting us build our engagement and our connection with them. And that’s, wider than just screen time. That’s a great kind of takeaway from this. 

I hope you can connect with us on the inspiredandactive.com website. We’ve included a quiz just for you to assess your digital balance. So, go on to the website. Quiz on the homepage, and the menu and also connect in with our Facebook group, Inspired and Active. It’d be great to have you in the community, and we look forward to our next podcast with you. Thank you