Digital screens are “electronic cocaine” according to Dr. Peter Whybrow, director of neuroscience at UCLA and Chinese researchers are calling them “digital heroin”…
Are we raising a generation of screen and technology addicts?
As parents, many of us can intuitively see the way the multitude of glowing screens in our modern society are having a negative effect on our kids.
Perhaps you have firsthand experience of aggressive temper tantrums when a device is taken away?
At the very least you have probably witnessed children (not necessarily your own) who become bored, apathetic, uninteresting and uninterested when they are ‘unplugged’ and who constantly pester their parents to let them ‘play’ on their phone or tablet in every moment of silence.
Did you know that many tech designers and engineers send their kids to no-tech schools?
According to a report in the New York Post, Steve Jobs was a notoriously low-tech parent. Silicon Valley tech executives and engineers enroll their kids in no-tech Waldorf Schools. Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page went to no-tech Montessori Schools, as did Amazon creator Jeff Bezos and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.
The problem with screen addiction is even worse than most of us think.
The head of addiction research for the Pentagon and the US Navy, Dr. Andrew Doan, who has been researching video game addiction, calls video games and screen technologies “digital pharmakeia” (Greek for drug).
Research shows that all those smartphones, iPads, Playstations and Xboxes are a form of digital drug.
Recent brain imaging research is showing that they affect the brain in EXACTLY the same way that cocaine does. Like other addictions, technology is so hyper-arousing that it raises levels of the feel-good neurotransmitter as much as having sex!
Is it any surprise that kids don’t like having their screens taken away?
Hundreds of clinical studies also show that screens lead to an increase in depression, anxiety and aggression.
Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, an addictions specialist and Clinical Director of the Dunes, a holistic mind-body rehab center in New York, writes how he has “found it easier to treat heroin and crystal meth addicts than lost-in-the-matrix video gamers or Facebook-dependent social media addicts.”
This is serious stuff, especially as studies in the US show that 1 in 3 kids are now using tablets or smartphones before they learn to talk!
The American Society of Addiction Medicine describes addiction as “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry” and says that “addiction is characterised by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioural control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviours and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response.”
The recovery movement describes addiction as cunning, baffling and powerful.
From personal experience, II think it is important to know that addiction is not about the thing a person is addicted to, it is about the way they think that thing will make them feel.
For example, just as an alcoholic or drug addict believes their substance of choice can take away pain and make the feel high, video games and screen time can provide a false reality where the individual immersed in technology takes on a new persona – games can easily let you play the hero, sports star or gangster.
So how can we combat this?
As with anything in life, prevention is better than cure (although both prevention and cure could be similar).
In his TED talk, Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong, Johann Hari asks “What if addiction is an adaptation to your environment?”
He goes on to explain that maybe we should refer to addiction as bonding.
“Human beings have a natural and innate need to bond, and when we’re happy and healthy, we’ll bond and connect with each other, but if you can’t do that, because you’re traumatised or isolated or beaten down by life, you will bond with something that will give you some sense of relief,” he says.
He continues by explaining how that might be gambling, pornography, cocaine… Could it also be video games and screen time?
Bonding and connection are human nature and central to our very existence.
Our modern technology driven lifestyles give us more social tools, but in reality we have become more and more isolated. This is especially true for children.
When I was a kid we would leave the house when it was light, hangout with our friends and return home when we were either hungry or when it started to get dark. Childhood was focused around human connection.
Now our kids seem to have more stuff than ever, but also less and less time with others. We have a society that fears what will happen to children if they go out alone and so instead of disappearing on our bikes, calling on friends and finding a group to play with, todays kids are sitting inside and connecting online.
If technology is their number one way to feel a sense of community, is it any surprise it becomes addictive?
My advice is to share some tech-free time with you kids (yes, this does mean you putting your phone down too) and show them how people bonded and communicated 20 years ago (before most of this technology existed).
In the words of a TV programme from my childhood, why don’t you just switch off, go out and do something less boring instead?
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