This post is about addiction. No, not addiction involving substances like marijuana, cocaine or opiates. It’s about a new addiction that’s gripping our children at a younger and younger age; technology devices – and it’s out of control. Now some may think I’m being funny, and quite honestly, I’d love nothing more than to laugh this off. But others, who are experiencing it right alongside me, know it’s no laughing matter.
Same Effect, Different Decade
As a child of the 70s and coming of age in the 80s, my exposure to temptation ran deep – specifically with drugs. While my adventurous spirit and curiosity sometimes got the best of me, thankfully I never went past that initial interest – well, mostly.
If you were part of Generation X, as we were called, you remember the infamous Public Service Announcement that ran on T.V. called, “This is Your Brain…This is Your Brain on Drugs.” In it, a man, presumably someone’s dad, is holding an egg and a frying pan, with the egg being our brain. He proceeds to crack the egg into the frying pan and once it’s all scrambled says, “This is your brain on drugs…Any questions?”
This was powerful messaging for its time and strangely, it’s even more relevant today. Not just as it relates to the real drug epidemic crippling our nation, but with children’s over-usage of technology devices.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 in 3 kids are using tablets or smartphones before they can even talk. Full confession: I was one of those parents who actually thought it was “cute” when my son swiped open our phones and like many, showed pride in his ability to work these devices like a boss. Now, 10 years after the iPhone, it’s not so cute how this generation has quickly become addicted to technology devices.
Technology Devices Addiction is Real
Last summer I read an eye-opening article titled, “It’s digital heroin’: How screens turn kids into psychotic junkies.” In this article, Dr. Nicholas Kadaras, executive director of The Dunes East Hampton, one of the country’s top rehabs, and author of “Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids — and How to Break the Trance,” explains what happens to our children’s brains when exposed to too much screen time. I’m not going to lie, it scared the hell out of me.
He describes a 6-year old boy who is hooked on Minecraft and how his behavior slowly started to deteriorate. His interest in once favorite activities like baseball and reading also diminished over time. The child’s mother describes one frightening night she walked in his room to check on him before bedtime. She found him staring in a trance with the iPad glowing next to him. This eerily sounded like my own child – minus the Zombie-like trance.
I’m assuming if a Public Service Announcement was done today the egg would be replaced with an iPad or Xbox, and the brain on too much technology would be a screenshot of an angry Creeper attacking a Minecraft world.
If you’ve ever had to get your child tested for anything neurological you’ve probably heard phrases thrown around like executive functioning and impulse control. According to Dr. Kadaras, it’s no surprise to learn that recent brain imaging research shows technology devices like iPads and Xboxes affect the brain’s frontal cortex — which controls executive functioning. This includes impulse control in exactly the same way that cocaine does. And to think we thought just Oreos had this effect.
What’s a Parent to Do?
I’m sure many reading this are sitting in judgement and saying, “You’re the parent so you’re in charge – just take the damn iPad away from him.” You’re right, I actually agree. This is just as much my fault as it is my son’s – maybe more. But before you roll your eyes or wag your finger at me, try and understand this a little deeper. Weening our kids off of technology devices, at least according to many professionals today, is similar to weening someone off drugs, or alcohol – or chocolate – you can’t do it overnight.
I’m not trying to make light of this. Trust me, in our home we are currently on a full ban of all technology devices for the summer. Does this mean forever — as my son asks me daily? No, not forever but moving forward, in moderation. This should be fun seeing as we live in a technologically-advanced society and there’s no hiding from it. It’s everywhere – including school.
As parents, it’s our responsibility to lead by example. If you have your head in your phone 24/7 – stop it! Or at least don’t do it around your kids. We all want our children to become the next Bill Gates or create the next Candy Crush app. We should also want them to be happy, healthy and ready to take on the real world — not just the virtual world.
If you’re struggling with this issue please share some of your strategies of how you’re cutting down on technology device usage in your home. I’d love to gain more insight on what’s working and what’s not!