Is Screen Time Turning Your Child Into a Digital Addict?
This New York Post article, “It’s ‘digital heroin’: How screens turn kids into psychotic junkies” opens with a story of a mother that an increasing number of parents are becoming familiar with: her son was addicted to video games.
Also in the article:
- Video game addiction under the guise of education
- Screen time has the same effect as cocaine
- Stopping your child from becoming a digital addict
- Digital detox
ADDICT AT THE AGE OF 6
Susan*, like most parents, wanted her son John* to get a leg up on his education. To achieve this, John was given an iPad at the age of 6. With the help and assurance of his technology teacher in school John was playing educational games on his new tablet. Eventually, John discovered the popular game ‘Minecraft’, which the teacher assured Susan was like an electronic version of LEGOs. At first, she was happy that John was creatively playing in the Minecraft universe, but soon realized that it was not like the LEGOs she was familiar with growing up.
Susan started to worry when her son told her he was seeing the shapes in his dreams. John became hooked on his new block-universe, losing interest in activities he had previously loved – baseball and reading; He had even started refusing to do his chores. One night, John lost it: a catatonic stupor left him with bloodshot eyes, staring at his wall when Susan went in to check on him around bed time. John had to be repeatedly shaken to be woken up.
Brain imaging research has shown that iPads, smartphones, and video games affect the brain the same way that cocaine does. The frontal cortex , which is responsible for impulse control, is exposed to higher levels of dopamine. When dopamine levels are raised to higher levels, it can lead to impulsive behavior because of the need for instant gratification. Physical symptoms of screen addiction can include migraines from intense concentration, eye strain, and fatigue. The emotional side effects are just as bad. Screen addiction can lead to feelings of restlessness and irritability, preoccupation with thoughts of online activity, and isolation; not to mention psychotic episodes like the one that Susan saw first hand.
GETTING A TASTE AT A YOUNG AGE
Consider this: a 2013 policy statement to the American Academy of Pediatrics reported that 1 in 3 kids use smartphones before they can talk! This is an alarming statistic, considering kids 8 – 10 years old spend 8 hours per day in front of various screens, while teenagers spend an average of 11 hours per day!
There is plenty that you can do to prevent your child from getting hooked on digital stimulation to begin with. First and foremost, set positive examples. Your children model themselves after you. If you’re always absorbed in your phone or tablet, they will be too.
Schools are starting to give children tablets or laptops at an earlier and earlier age. If necessary, tell your child’s teacher to refrain from giving him or her one until they are at least 10 years old.
Help your child create meaningful, real-life experiences. Children are more prone to turn to electronics to escape when they feel alone or alienated, or when they are bored. This can mean swapping Minecraft for LEGOs, books for iPads, and playing outside or participating in sports instead of video games or watching TV.
If you think your child may be already screen-addicted there are some worthwhile, albeit challenging measures you can take. Just like any addict, a detox is necessary before they can be treated effectively. A normal detox for an addict is 4-6 weeks, and professionals recommend the same amount of time for screen addicts. This can prove difficult though, with all of the digital media in our everyday lives. To ease into this, you could try monitoring your child’s online time, and gradually cutting it down to a point that you feel comfortable with.
In terms of children playing, they will do what they think is fun; whether that is playing outside, playing video games, or playing in their house. At Gym1, we find a lot of the above statistics and reports alarming. We think we’ve cracked the code on making a toy that kids find fun and entertaining, but also keeps them active.
*Names changed for the article