Screen addiction is a silent epidemic that’s harming our children

Screen time is a subject often debated among parents. In reality, excessive time spent on gadgets is hugely detrimental to a child’s development – with a new book accusing screen addiction of hijacking our children.

Jul 26, 2019 |
6 min read

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There’s no denying that we’re all living in a digital world. We’re exposed to screens at almost every turn, and a generation of children cannot even remember a world without tablets, computers and the Internet.

This places parents and teachers at something of a crossroads. It’s impossible to avoid screen time for young people. In fact, doing so is actively detrimental to your future aspirations.

A human that finds himself or herself unable to utilize technology in the future effectively will presumably be as lost as a woodland hiker without a compass. Despite this, the management of a child’s delving into the digital realm must be handled gently.

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This is something of a specialist subject for Ivy League-educated psychologist Dr. Nicholas Kardaras. The good doctor has penned a book on this subject, Glow Kids, which has been summarized in a New York Post article.

Dr. Kardaras uses case studies to discuss an increasing number of children are becoming addicted to the screen – and the impact this has on their personality. If left to their own devices (no pun intended), young people will never tear their eyes from a screen. It’s no secret that will have a detrimental impact on their quality of life.

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How is much screen time too much?

Any parent is faced with a dilemma when it comes to managing screen time. Sometimes, the path of least resistance is the best. An increasingly small number of modern children show any interest in print or analog entertainment, ensuring that gadgets are the way forward.

If a parent needs time to do something without interruption, screen time is a great way to buy that opportunity. While physical activities often require one-on-one attention (which, in other circumstances, will obviously be welcomed), playing on an iPad is a determinedly solo activity. If the apps and games being utilized are educational, so much, the better.

The fact is, however, there are different types of online engagement – and some of these variations are more concerning than others. Common Sense Media divided screen time into a quartet of core categories.

  • Passive. This involves watching video providers such as Netflix or YouTube, or listen to music through the likes of Spotify. Entertainment is an online industry nowadays.
  • Interactive. If your child is playing games online or within an app, or actively browsing the web, they are engaging in interactive screen time. This may be educational – or it may mark the beginning of addiction.
  • Communicating. Screen time may also be dedicated to social media, or real-time chatting through tools such as Skype. This must be monitored closely for the safety of a child.
  • Creation. Of course, there’s nothing to say that your child’s screen time is completely submissive. They may be actively creating music, videos, or anything else.

Regardless of what your child uses the screen for, it’s best to limit their access to computers, tablets, and smartphones. Without limits, children can find themselves wholly reliant upon their devices. Screen time has been described as “digital heroin” by experts, with fewer and fewer young people being capable of unplugging and taking themselves offline.

A digital high

It’s understandable if you’re wondering just why screens hold such a thrall for the new generation of children.

Technology, while still in its infancy, has been around for several decades. Many parents grew up with television and home computers of varying levels of prowess. Some young parents even grew up with the Internet.

The fact is, as technology continues to evolve at breakneck speed, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for children to tell the digital realm from reality. Perhaps more alarm of all, they’re finding the former considerably more appealing.

A range of scientific studies into the impact of video games on the brain has been untaken. Many are currently inconclusive – though it has been confirmed that games and other screen-centric activities do impact the neural cortex.

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A comparison has been made to cocaine use in adults. When a young person engages with their gadget, they are flooding their mind with dopamine, and blocking out any kind of negative emotion.

Not only does this become addictive, but it also explains the antisocial tendencies of a particularly screen-centric child. Have you ever met a cocaine addict in recovery? Between bumps, they are … let’s charitably refer to them as “cranky.”

A child that’s deprived of access to the screen will be the same. They want their fix, and woe betides anybody that stands in their way. The extreme reaction to suddenly losing access to their screen is also understandable if they approach it from this perspective.

A dopamine-flooded brain is one that has all impulse control dampened. This means that a child, especially, will not moderate their response when things go awry. Foul language, screaming tantrums, and even physical violence may follow the removal of a screen.

Understanding addiction

“Addiction” may seem like a harsh term when discussing children and screen time, but it’s accurate. The World Health Organization has been monitoring this new phenomenon in recent years. In fact, a new condition was introduced to the International Classification of Diseases’ eleventh revision. This condition has been dubbed gaming disorder.

Gaming Disorder could perhaps be referred to as “Video Game Addiction.” It’s not a diagnosis that is thrown around lightly, but it’s pertinent that you understand the warning signs.

Gaming Disorder typically refers to an individual that begins to struggle with the concept of engaging with reality. The digital realm is considerably more natural to negotiate –, especially for young people.

If your child refuses to switch off or hand over their gadgets, throws temper tantrums when the battery runs lows, cannot tear themselves away from the screen during dinner, and attempts to sneak their tablet into the bedroom despite house rules, there is cause for concern.

Of course, this could also just be a case of kids being kids. Children are easily fascinated, and the online world offers a vast array of opportunities to create, learn, and consume. What’s more, screen time does not need to be a bad thing. With the world moving into an increasingly uncertain future, we should be encouraged our young children to understand coding and computing.

Observe

Just keep an eye on your young people. Observe, and ensure that they don’t appear to be valuing screen time over three-dimensional interaction.

A child that grows dependent and addicted to their gadgets can be challenging to manage. They’ll have an attention span that can be measured in nanoseconds when away from the glowing lights of a tablet, and struggle with the soft social skills required to thrive in company.

How can this be combatted? There is no magic wand. If there were, the world would not be filled with children seemingly dependent on their screens. Be honest and open with your children, entering into a dialog about the risks of excessive screen time.

Besides, try to provide realistic alternatives. Kids love Minecraft, which is often described as online Lego. Maybe we’re old-fashioned … but doesn’t that mean that Lego will be even more fun? Although kids love the digital world, there is still no real substitute for genuine, one-on-one attention.

Don’t remove screens from a child’s life entirely unless you feel you have no choice. The child will feel alienated from their peers, and likely resent you for the intrusion. Wherever possible, however, reduce their time online and re-introduce more and more outdoor or collaborative activities.

The more time your kids spend with their friends, engaging in behavior that doesn’t involve plugging in or getting wired, the more they’ll remember to take pleasure in the simple things in life.

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