Studies

This Research Will Reveal How Excessive Screen Time and Digital Addiction Greatly Imperil Kids

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How Excessive Screen Time, Digital Addiction Greatly Imperils Kids
PHOTOGRAPH: Steinar Engeland | Photo shows a girl preoccupied with the latest tech gadgetry.

In our present technology-filled society where screens are ubiquitous, many parents are losing their kids to the immersive and addictive effects of gadgets like game tablets and smartphones.

Studies show that addiction to gadgetry imperils kids, stunting developmental processes. On top of that, Clinical studies show that screens increase depression, anxiety and aggression and can even lead to psychotic-like features where the video gamer loses touch with reality.

Have you started noticing that you have a difficult time peeling away kids from their screens? Or perhaps the youngsters in your family seem agitated when their screen time is interrupted. If so, then it may be high time to take action.

Brain Imaging Research Finding

Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, a former clinical professor, executive director of the rehabilitation center, The Dunes East Hampton, and author of the book, Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids-and How to Break the Trance, cited a recent brain imaging research. It underscored that the brain’s frontal cortex, that part which encompasses executive functioning such as impulse control, is affected by the lure of technology in much the same way manner as cocaine or sex.

Dopamine levels, the neurotransmitter directly connected to the addiction dynamic, go higher. Kardaras relates what happens to a high schooler who spends 10-12 hours a day with a game like World of Warcraft – he experiences gaming-induced psychosis called Game Transfer Phenomena (GTP) or the “Tetris Effect,” exhibiting a look indicating confusion and terror, more commonly associated with schizophrenics.

The professor added that luminaries in the scientific community have coined their own terms for the unhealthy gadget-screen fixation or addiction: Dr. Peter Whybrow, UCLA director of neuroscience pertains to those screens as electronic cocaine; Chinese researchers use “digital heroin” in their studies; while Dr. Andrew Doan, head of addiction research for the Pentagon and the US Navy, also calls video games and other screen diversions “digital pharmakeia” (meaning “drug” in Greek).

Attending Schools Where Tech is Nil

Kardaras named Silicon Valley tech executives and engineers who have kids conspicuously going to Waldorf Schools, where technology is nil. Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who founded Google, Amazon creator Jeff Bezos, and Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales had also gone to similar schools.

After naming his illustrative examples, he opined that the solution lies in prevention: prevent a kid aged four to five, or eight-year-olds from getting hooked on those screens. Nip the addiction in the bud, because once it has set in, it can be more difficult to cure than drug or alcohol dependency.

Kardaras also cited a 2013 Policy Statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which found eight- to 10-year-olds allocating eight hours a day to various digital media, while teenagers spend 11 hours in front of screens. One in three kids uses tablets or smartphones before they can even talk.

Key Messages for Parents

The Growing Up Digital: Media Research Symposium organized by the American Academy of Pediatrics that converged leading social science, neuroscience, educators, pediatricians, and representatives from key partner organizations came up with some practical suggestions that parents or caretakers may heed (apart from setting reasonable limits on gadget use).

For starters, adults can set the example. Limit your own gadget use, keeping in mind that role modeling is vital. Second, provide substitutes to gadgets for the young members of the household. Suggest Lego instead of violent games, books instead of iPads, and baseball instead of television viewing. Prioritize daily unplugged playtime, especially for the very young.

For teens, ingrain appropriate online behavior. Engaging in social media is fine. It can support identity formation. In a non-annoying manner, ask your teen what he/she is doing online to help you understand both the content and context.

Creating tech-free zones at home will also yield a favorable outcome. Gadgets need not be used during family mealtimes. Using mobile phones while eating and trying to engage in conversation with family members, or multitasking, can be distracting. A gadget-free zone in the bedroom also encourages healthier sleep.

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