In a world of technology, the first thing we buy as a gift to a kid who learned to walk is an electronic device – be it an iPad, a smartphone, an Xbox, or a phablet. The kids seem so happy with their new gadgets, that they install their favorite games right away!
They play their favorite game more and more, they build their social media accounts, and soon enough, they start spending all of their free time in front of a glowing screen. Then, there comes a darker side to their joy. It soon turns into an addiction which disables them from normal functioning.
This may sound familiar to many parents, should they have noticed the signs.
According to a policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics, 8-10-year-olds spend nearly 8 hours a day in front of screens, while older children and teenagers spend more than 11 hours per day.
There is a good reason why tech designers and engineers are the most tech-cautious parents. In fact, all the biggest technological names have been very cautious when it comes to technology and their children.
Steve Jobs, Silicon Valley tech executives, Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Amazon creator Jeff Bezos, and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales – they all have one thing in common, they don’t prefer technology in their children’s lives.
What causes this addiction to screens?
The psychology behind the ubiquitously glowing screens that make children burst in aggressive temper tantrums when they are taken away from them is particularly worrying. Which is more, these children become bored, uninterested, apathetic and uninteresting when being away from the devices.
Recent brain imaging research, as Dr. Nicholas Kardaras points, has shown that the technology our children are obsessed with affects the brain’s frontal cortex. This part of the brain controls executive functioning, including impulse control, in exactly the same way as cocaine does, says Dr. Kardaras.
This highly-arousing technology raises the levels of dopamine, which is the main culprit behind psychological addictions. This neurotransmitter controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. In other words, your child’s brain on video games looks like a brain on drugs. This addiction can be built very fast, and the effects can be very damaging.
Hundreds of clinical studies point to the fact that exposure to screens increases depression, anxiety, and aggression. It can even lead to a psychotic-like feature where the person loses touch with reality.
A disturbing fact is that we nurture this addiction into our children from a very young age. Statistics show that one in three children start using tablets before they can talk. This has grown to a current number of 18% of US college-age Internet users suffering from tech addiction.
As with every addiction, Dr. Kardaras notes that a detox procedure is needed before any kind of therapy can have any chance of being effective. In the case of tech addiction, this means a complete isolation from digital technology. This includes computers, smartphones, tablets, and TVs.
The prescribed time for the detox is four to six weeks, which is the time usually required for a hyper-aroused nervous system to come to a reset. After that follows the psychological treatment of the tech addict.
However, keeping someone away from digital technology is not an easy task in a tech-filled society. In fact, the whole procedure is so complex that taking preventive measures is much easier and painless.
Don’t let them cross the line – This is how
The first step is not to replace real attention by throwing a tech gadget to your child to please their needs for fun and entertainment. Dr. Kardaras recommends replacing Minecraft with Lego, iPads with books, and TV with nature and sports.
You could even demand from your child’s school not to give them a tablet or Chromebook until they turn 10 (or 12) if you have to.
You should have honest discussions with your child as to why you are limiting their access to screens. Ban all electronic devices at the table during dinnertime and don’t become a distracted parent because of your smartphone, as children will learn that habit from you quickly.
A healthy environment for a child is one with live social interaction, engagement with the real, natural world, and creative imaginative play. If you think that tossing them a smartphone to play games or watch cartoons is healthy, think twice.
The dopamine in children should come from outdoor games, genuine laughter and fun, and caring and loving parents – not from screens. Help your children find the real source of pleasure in life, and not get hooked on pointless activities that will eventually destroy their personality.