You wouldn’t give your child a syringe full of heroin, of course. But you might as well do that when you let him play Minecraft for hours on end, according to Dr. Nicholas Kardaras. Read on to learn how overexposure to electronic gadgets can affect the brain and lead to full-blown addiction…
Dr. Kardaras is the executive director of The Dunes East Hampton, one of the country’s top rehab centers and a former clinical professor at Stony Brook Medicine. He’s also the author of a new book, “Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids — and How to Break the Trance”
Everything that kids see on a digital screen is “hyper-arousing,” according to Kardaras and the research he cites. That makes sense given the hyper-competition for attention that surrounds the video game and “educational” software industries. A program that doesn’t go over the top to seize and hold a child’s attention will quickly be discarded for one that does. But the consequences of arousing children’s senses to unreal heights can be dire.
“We now know that those iPads, smartphones and Xboxes are a form of digital drug,” writes Kardara in the NY Post. “Recent brain imaging research is showing that they affect the brain’s frontal cortex — which controls executive functioning, including impulse control — in exactly the same way that cocaine does. Technology is so hyper-arousing that it raises dopamine levels — the feel-good neurotransmitter most involved in the addiction dynamic — as much as sex.”
baby playing with iPad
Kardara details the case of “John,” a six year-old whose mom gave him an iPad when he started kindergarten to “let him get a jump on things.” After all, John’s school has been giving iPads to younger and younger grades every year; the school even has a Minecraft Club. So it’s “educational,” right? But soon, John was addicted to Minecraft. Mom tried to take it away from him but he turned into a raging “Exorcist”-type little demon, so she let him keep it. That was a big mistake. Eventually, it took four long, tough years for John to kick his screen addiction, even with the help of Kardara and his team of addiction rehab experts.
Kardara recommends that parents not let kids get near screens before they are 12 years old. He writes, “Once a kid has crossed the line into true tech addiction, treatment can be very difficult. Indeed, I have found it easier to treat heroin and crystal meth addicts than lost-in-the-matrix video gamers or Facebook-dependent social media addicts.”
That means give your kids real Lego, not digital imitations like Minecraft. (Lego doesn’t involve killing animals to survive, as Minecraft does. Think about that for a moment.) Give them books instead of iPads or e-readers. Forget about cell phones before 7th grade. Keep all things digital away from the dinner table. (That includes you, Mom and Dad.) Enforce strict limits on daily screen time of all types: TV, phones, computers, tablets – and no exceptions for “schoolwork” time. Every minute in front of a screen is bad for your child, no matter what its purpose.
“Not My Kid…”
That’s where a lot of parents will disagree with the good doctor, not because they know better than he but because screens are more convenient than any other form of babysitting entertainment. I often see parents hand their phones to a crying toddler in public; magically, the kid quiets right down. You will have a very hard time convincing such a parent that this is a bad thing. (Most people around them would agree it’s a good thing, and the kid’s long-term mental health be damned.)
It’s not just kindergartners and pre-teens who experience digital addiction. I’ve seen this first-hand in teenagers who literally melt down when the gadgets are confiscated, or if screen time is limited. Aside from that, it concerns me that every spare moment of a typical teenager’s life is spent texting, gaming or consuming inane videos. Just a few years ago, the prevailing wisdom was “Keep computers in a public space in your home, and monitor what your kids are watching or doing online.” With mobile devices, that’s impossible. Kids live in a digital fantasy world, exposed to age-inappropriate content and influences that parents would never permit, if they were even aware of it.
One of the criticisms of Kadara’s book, repeated in several reviews, is that it relies almost exclusively upon anecdotes drawn from his practice. His patients are all far-gone addicts, hardly representative of the general population. He alludes to “hundreds of studies” that support his view that screen-time, in and of itself, is harmful. It would be nice if he reviewed in-depth at least one of the studies, describing its methodology and results in detail.
But Kadara is telling us what we have been told since the 1970s, when television was the insidious “electronic drug” of the previous generation. See “The Plug-in Drug” by Marie Winn (1977). I have to wonder when a generation of parents will wake up and listen.
Kids should be outdoors whenever the weather is survivable. They should be dirty, and wet, and smelly when they get home. They should be getting all the Vitamin D they need from natural sunlight, not from pills or fortified milk.
Have you, or parents you know, tried to set limits on screen time for your kids? Was there a positive result?
We at Nevada Family Psychiatry are now starting to see Kids coming back from school after the first 2 weeks with more technology assignments. Even kids as young as 5 years old now are coming home with “homework” to do on iPad or Computer. Do parents see this as a problem to be addressed or more a train that is impossible to stop?
Your comments are welcome.