Welcome to the practice website for Dr. Michael Cheng, a child and family psychiatrist at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Dr. Cheng works on the Consultation Clinic at CHEO and is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Ottawa. In between patients, Dr. Cheng works with eMentalHealth.ca, an initiative of Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

Cellphone experiment at Ottawa daycare offers strong message for parents

Cellphone experiment at Ottawa daycare offers strong message for parents

Joanne Schnurr, CTV Ottawa | Published Wednesday, June 15, 2016 5:44PM EDT

Technology is getting so easy to use these days that even a baby can figure it out.

That’s what one Ottawa daycare wanted to highlight in a little social experiment it did, with a strong message for parents. We know that children learn from watching and what they are learning from many of us is that we would sooner talk on our cellphones than talk to them.

So a daycare decided put technology in the hands of tots to see what would happen.

At 15 months old, little Caiden Nicol already knows how to swipe the photos on his mother’s cellphone. With a quick flip of his wrist, he scrolls through the photos of himself, much to his mother’s surprise.

"More and more children gravitate to these cellphones,” says Candice Nichol, “because they see other people using it.”

That's something that troubled the head teacher at the infant program at Elizabeth Park Child Care Centre in Ottawa’s south end. So, Margaret MacNaughton decided to try an experiment using toy phones and demo cell phones to see what the babies, aged 8 to 18 months, would do.

The results surprised even her.

"They were actually texting and swiping,” says MacNaughton, “and it is amazing to see at this age how much knowledge they had of cellphones.”

While the toy phones generated some interest, it was the real McCoy that caught their eye. For McNaughton, it was an eye-opener about our society and our obsession with technology.

“The message to parents,” says MacNaughton, “is put those phones away. If you're at the park, be with your child; get on that climber with them. Build that bond because that bond is what's going to carry them forward into the world.”

It is a message echoed by Dr. Michael Cheng, a child psychiatrist at CHEO, who says babies brains develop through face to face contact. They need that to thrive.

“The problem with technology,” says Dr. Cheng, “is that it gets in the way of face-to-face contact.”

He says the impact of our misuse and overuse of technology is huge.

“What we're realizing is that all the time we are spending on our devices is making us less emphatic empathetic and if you think from a global perspective, one of biggest challenges we have is a lack of empathy, a lack of ability for people to care for others and there's a lot of us that believe it has to do with the excessive screen time kids get.”

Dr. Cheng says this is also raising questions about the dramatic rise in mental health issues both among kids and adults.

“There is growing data that suggests that the misuse, the overuse of data technology is related to a lot of the rise in mental health services we're seeing,” he says, “whether it is mood issues, anxiety or increased inattention.”

Dr. Cheng says clearly technology isn't bad; it has the power to help us and connect us but too often, we're letting it disconnect us.

So, back to our experiment which is admittedly an elementary experiment at best. But, it becomes clear for every parent that children mimic what they see.

So the message from Dr. Cheng and Margaret MacNaughton is to mimic positive behavior, that face-to-face contact.

And leave the screen time for another time.

Nature and Mental Health Presentation for Renfrew County

Why are so many people in modern societies suffering from stress and mental health related issues? One of the theories is that we are not getting enough nature… Renfrew County hosted the Healthy Kids Forum, as part of the Healthy Kids Community Challenge for Pembroke, ON on Feb 2016. Download the presentation that I gave here…

Presentation to Parents on Attachment and Modern Society

For interested parents, here is a copy of the presentation that I recently gave to parents at the Steps for Success Day Treatment Program. Connected but alone: How technology disrupts our attachments to one another and what we can do about it.

Want to get happier? Log off social media...!

The key to happiness may be as simple as logging off Facebook for a week, a new Danish study has found.

Researchers at The Happiness Institute tested how social media affected users’ general happiness. A total of 1,095 Facebook users were asked to evaluate their overall life satisfaction on a scale from 1 to 10 based on different factors, such as how happy they were, how much they enjoyed life, whether they felt worried or sad, and if they were enthusiastic or decisive. Ninety-four percent confessed to logging on to Facebook at least once a day. After the evaluation, half of the group was asked to avoid going on Facebook for a week, while the other half was told to continue with their lives as normal.

A week later, the participants’ life satisfaction was once again measured. Results revealed those who hadn’t given up Facebook experienced a slight increase in their overall happiness, from an average happiness rating of 7.67 to 7.75. However, this group was also 55 percent more likely to feel stressed. The group that had given up social media, on the other hand, experienced a much more significant increase in happiness — their happiness rating jumped from 7.56 to 8.12.

Participants who gave up Facebook also experienced an increase in social activity and satisfaction with their social lives. And when they were asked about their moods on the last day of the experiment, they reported feeling happier and less sad than the group that had kept Facebook. Overall, the group without Facebook was 18 percent more likely to feel present and in the moment.

Read more…

Computers in classroom may increase distractions and worsen learning: OECD report

At a time when school boards across Canada are equipping classrooms with new laptops, tablets and desktop computers to bring learning into the digital age, a global study raises questions over whether all that technology necessarily means better education results.

A report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development released on Tuesday said the impact of information and communication technologies (ICT) on student performance is “mixed, at best.”

According to the report’s authors, where students frequently use computers in the classroom, the technology can become a distraction and education outcomes are weaker when compared with those classrooms where technology is used moderately for specific learning projects or once or twice a week.

Read more here…

CTV Interview: Parents - Don’t let yourselves get replaced by screens and technology

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I am grateful to Carole Anne Meehan with CTV for the opportunity to talk about a very important challenge that faces parents and our society in general. We have all these wonderful technologies such as smart phones, and there is no doubt, there are many benefits to these technologies. Unfortunately, these technologies can be incredibly addicting, and they have the potential to disconnect us from one another, especially our kids... The good news however, is that it is never too late, to DISCONNECT (from our devices) to RECONNECT (to one another)... See the full interview here...

Pope Francis: Get off your screens and talk to one another

“By growing daily in our awareness of the vital importance of encountering others, we will employ technology wisely, rather than letting ourselves be dominated by it,” the Pontiff said Friday in his annual message for World Communications Day.

In other words, cut down on your screen time, kids.

Not that mothers and fathers aren’t beyond reproach: “Parents are the primary educators,” he said, “but they cannot be left to their own devices.”

“The media can be a hindrance if they become a way to avoid listening to others, to evade physical contact, to fill up every moment of silence and rest, so that we forget that ‘silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist,'” Pope Francis said.

Read more here...

Meaning is more important than happiness in life

What is the most important thing in life? Happiness? Not so according to Viktor Frankl... “It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness." The key to a life well lived is not the quest for happiness per se, but rather having meaning in your life. Read more...

Nature improves mental health

As humans have become disconnected from nature, we have seen a corresponding increase in all manner of mental health problems... I was fortunate to have been able to present on this topic at Nature for Life, sponsored by the Lanark County Public Health Unit.