“Tech addiction is ‘digital heroin’ for kids – turning children into screen junkies.” – Metro UK
At the beginning of this year, you may have read an article by the Metro about how our children are ‘screen junkies’ with a ‘digital heroin’ tech addiction. Now, we wouldn’t quite go that far, but it did get us thinking.
Are kids addicted, in the truest sense, to screens?
In her study of “Internet Addiction”, Dr Kimberly Young suggests that 18 percent of college-age internet users in the US suffer from tech addiction.
But what is tech addiction? What are others doing about it? And what tools can we start using now to help our children develop healthier relationships with technology?
Is technology addiction real or one of these “fads” to scare us?
Remember, back in the day, when our parents told us sitting too close to the TV would give us square eyes? Well, we know that’s not true but experts say there are real dangers to exposing our kids to technology too early.
“[Screen time] is the very thing impeding the development of the abilities that parents are so eager to foster through the tablets. The ability to focus, to concentrate, to lend attention, to sense other people’s attitudes and communicate with them, to build a large vocabulary—all those abilities are harmed.” — Dr Aric Sigman, a Fellow of Britain’s Royal Society of Medicine
Why is this the case?
Well, most of the issues lie with the number of stimuli our devices offer us. Because our devices give us the ability to process multiple actions at once, we are taking away the need for younger minds to process the information themselves.
Psychology Today summarises it nicely:
Unlike a mother reading a story to a child, for example, a smartphone-told story spoon-feeds images, words, and pictures all at once to a young reader. Rather than having to take the time to process a mother’s voice into words, visualise complete pictures and exert a mental effort to follow a storyline, kids who follow stories on their smartphones get lazy. The device does the thinking for them, and as a result, their own cognitive muscles remain weak.
But what about for those of us that weren’t exposed to screens at a young age?
Well, it turns out too much tech time is just as bad for us. Especially if we relate screen time to entertainment and enjoyment. (For more on the dangers of internet addiction, we really recommend you listen to Dr Hallowell’s podcast on The Dangers of Internet Addiction).
Like other addictions, screen time creates significant changes in brain chemistry. The most notable is the release of dopamine. Known as the ‘pleasure chemical’, dopamine is central to a number of addictions (think sugar, cocaine, alcohol…).
So, the more dopamine that’s released while we’re on our screens, theoretically the more time we’ll spend on our screens looking for that next dopamine ‘hit’. Then, the more time we will have to spend on screens to get the same dopamine high we originally experienced.
Now we see why they called it digital heroin…
It’s addiction in its truest sense.
So, what have others done to combat technology addictions?
Most of us know by now that Steve Jobs said he limited how much time his kids used technology at home, which says a lot coming from one of Apple’s founding fathers.
There are numerous other examples of tech leaders who have limited their kid’s exposure to technology too, like Chris Anderson (Chief Executive of 3D Robotics, a drone maker).
“My kids accuse me and my wife of being fascists and overly concerned about tech, and they say that none of their friends have the same rules [around screen time]. That’s because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.”
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The technology addiction warning signs
So what are the “dangers of technology” and what are their warning signs we should look out for, first and foremost? Well, they vary according to the child (of course) and can be influenced by a number of factors, particularly their home life and social & economic standing.
However, the following 5 seemed to be the most common we came across:
- Trouble making friends and isolating themselves
- Life has no on/off switch
- Aggressive behaviour
- Difficulty sleeping
- Attention difficulties.
These were all noted by Public Health England in their August 2013 report on children’s well-being too.
While the technology itself isn’t responsible for all these behaviours, we now know it can play a factor. We must take into consideration how it can influence our kids, and how we are going to combat the behaviour it has introduced in our home and in our society.
What tools can I use to combat my kid’s screen time addiction?
Once parents have spotted the warning signs, they often look to introduce a screen time solution. Whether that’s an actual app or an ‘analog’ solution such as a ‘device free’ zone at the dinner table — there are a number of ways you can help your child reduce the amount of time they spend on a screen.
Here are just a few examples we’ve thought of and tried ourselves (though we settled on a screen time management tool — obviously!):
- Having a charging zone downstairs overnight, so your kids don’t take their devices to bed.
- An internet time out, where you unplug the internet for the whole house for a select few hours (though this won’t necessarily stop kids being on their device).
- ‘Screen free’ days, whether that’s a family day out or an entire holiday.
- Screens only allowed for family activities, such as movie night.
- Weekend only devices — a very popular choice.
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Screen Time Nirvana
The dream is that our kids will one day learn that their screens are not an extension of their body but something that can improve their quality of life if used sparingly.
But we’re a long way off from that.
In the meantime, we must acknowledge that screen-time addiction is an issue we need to address immediately. The tech giants did it, and now it’s our turn as parents to enforce the screen rules.
Recognise the warning signs and find the tools that work for your family before it’s too late.
Are you struggling to manage your child’s screen time addiction? Would you like some more information? Get in touch with us below.