Does your child have a digital addiction?

Children addicted to technology

MINNEAPOLIS - These days we give technology to the youngest of kids. Children under the age of two that can operate a smart phone or iPad like they've been doing it since they were in the womb. The question is…is this a good thing? Turns out, it might actually be harmful.

Ever try to take an iPad away from a five year old? I have, and it isn't pretty.

That tantrum can be explained, but it's not likely something you want to hear.

We sat down with the author of the new book Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking our Kids and How to Break the Trance.

Dr. Nicholas Kardaras is a licensed psychotherapist and a leading addiction expert in this country.

"There's clear clinical and neurological research that shows that these screens are having a pretty significant effect," says Dr. Kardaras.

Some people, researchers, liken screen time to "digital heroin" or "electronic cocaine". We asked Dr. Kardaras if he thought the problem was that serious.

"In addition to raising dopamine levels, it has the same effect as chronic cocaine use does in the way that it shrinks our frontal cortex. So, it shows cortical shrinkage in the frontal cortex, known as the executive functioning part of our brain," he says.

"There's been over 25 brain imaging studies that show the physiological changes that happen to the brain as a result of excessive screen exposure, and there's been hundreds of clinical studies that show the effect of screens with things like ADHD, aggression, anxiety depression and even psychosis," he continues.

So, parents, now you know why taking that iPad away causes a tantrum. It's like taking a drug away from a kid.
"Exactly, it's exactly that," says Kardaras. "Attention is a developmental muscle, like language, that develops at critical periods. If a child, during that key developmental window, where we're developing our ability to attend, to focus, gets hyper-stimulated by an immersive screen, there is research that shows that the parts of the brain that relate to attention get affected, get compromised."

But what about the educational side? We put the topic out on Facebook and had a few parents say they wanted to be sure we covered that as well. One parent says technology has really helped his daughter.

"It's allowed her vocabulary, and creativity, among other things to grow. I think if any kindergartner walks into the first day of school with no electronics experience, they're far behind," he writes.

We asked Dr. Kardaras about that.

"That's absolutely false," he says. "I would counter that by saying, then why did Steve Jobs not let his children have iPads when they first came out in 2010? He famously was a low-tech parent. Why would Silicon Valley engineers, who are Yahoo and Google executives, put their children into no-tech Waldorf Schools?" 

"What we have essentially had though is technology companies, I hate to use the word con, but con well-meaning educators and well-meaning parents with this false narrative that screens are somehow educational. There's not one, not one, research study that shows the educational efficacy of early screen time in schools," says Kardaras.

So, then, what are we as parents to do?

When should we allow our children to use technology?

"Technology, by my recommendation, and by others who have done this type of research, should really be held off until about age ten," he says.

"I'm not here to knock technology, but I also love driving my car, I just don't want my 9-year-old twins driving my car, because it's age inappropriate. And, that's what we're finding out that screens are not appropriate. Interactive, hyper-arousing, immersive screens are not age appropriate for six or seven year olds."

Dr. Kardaras wants to make perfectly clear that not every child will become addicted to the screen, but children with underlying issues, children who are predisposed to things like ADHD, anxiety or aggression, this will amplify that.


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