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Screen Time Is Like Heroin For Kids

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Kid’s love there screen time, but is it a harmless hobby or harmful addiction?  Kids have readily available screen time at school, home, a friend’s house, road trips and it doesn’t stop there.  In moderation, screen time can be a fun, harmless way for kids to unwind and enjoy being a kid.  However, there comes a point where excessive screen time mirrors the neurological damage of a gripping drug addiction. 

Screen time addiction is a powerful force, not to be reckoned with. In fact, Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, a licensed psychotherapist, mental health and addictions expert states that brain imaging research shows that stimulating glowing screens are as dopaminergic (dopamine activating) to the brain’s pleasure center as sex (1). 

Screen time has been correlated with disorders such as ADHD, addiction, anxiety, depression, increased aggression, and even psychosis (2).

How Powerful Is Screen Time For Kids?

Screen time for kids-kid in the dark looking at a glowing smartphone

Glowing screens are so powerful that the University of Washington has been using a virtual reality video game to help military burn victims with pain management during their treatments.  Beneficially, when patients are immersed in the game they report reduced pain, all without the aid of actual narcotics.  Consequently, this same power of screens acts like an addictive drug to our kids (2). 

Screen Time Mirrors Drug Addiction

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Commander Dr. Andrew Doan, head of addiction research for the US Navy and the Pentagon, calls video games Digital “Pharmakeia” (Greek for drugs). Dr. Doan adds, “anytime that there’s arousal, there can be addiction because it feels good”.  Additionally, there is the dopamine response, in that kids want to chase the adrenaline rush again and again (2). 

In 2012, a research team led by Dr. Hao Lei of the Chinese Academy of Sciences discovered that the brains of people who had been diagnosed with ”Internet Addiction Disorder” (IAD) had myelin (white matter) integrity abnormalities in brain regions involving executive attention, decision making, and emotional generation.  The results suggest that IAD may share psychological and neural mechanisms with other types of substance addiction and impulse control disorders.

It’s Merely Minecraft

screen time for kids-kid playing minecraft on laptop

Parents want the best for their kids and are often opportunistic when it comes to advancing their kids development.  Susan had these intentions when she bought her 6-year old son John an iPad.  Susan thought, “why not let him get a jump on things?” (3).  After all, John’s school was using the devices with younger grades, and John’s teacher lauded the educational benefits of the device.

Susan began to give John screen time for educational games and before long, John discovered Minecraft.  Susan was assured by John’s teacher that Minecraft was “just like electronic Lego” (3) and remembering how much fun she had with Lego, allowed John to play.  At first, Susan was pleased to see John engaged in creative play.  Though, Minecraft wasn’t quite like the Lego she remembered, seeing as Minecraft involves killing animals, finding rare minerals to survive and advancing to next levels.  Still, John’s school had a Minecraft club, so how bad could the game be?

Behaviour Changes

As John became more consumed with the game, changes were evident. John would lose interest in baseball and reading, refused to do chores, and sometimes upon waking up would tell his mom he could see cube shapes in his dreams. 

Susan was concerned but chalked it up to an active imagination. Though, as John’s behavior continued to deteriorate, Susan attempted to take the game away, but John threw temper tantrums.  Susan would give in to the severe outbursts, reassuring herself that the game was educational.

Scary Moment

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One night for Susan, the situation got frightening.  As Susan describes it, “I walked into his room to check on him.  He was supposed to be sleeping and I was just so frightened” (3).  Susan found John sitting up in his bed staring wide-eyed, his bloodshot eyes looking into the distance as his glowing eye iPad lay next to him.  John seemed to be in a trance, and with Susan panicked, she shook John repeatedly to snap him out of it.

Susan was naturally distraught and struggled with figuring out how her once happy little boy had become so addicted to the game that he wound up in a catatonic stupor.

How To Wean Screen Time For Kids

screen time for kids-boy bike riding with parents

The story of Susan and her son John is an eye-opening example of the damaging effects of screen addiction.  What started as a well-intentioned idea to foster her kid’s development, ended in a nightmarish scene suited for a thriller movie. 

No parent envisions landing in Susan’s position, though, scary truth is that is does happen.  A kids desire for screen time has prompted the need for effective parenting solutions on how to wean kids from this addictive behavior.  Don’t be caught idle to your kid’s harmful addiction by practicing these screen time weaning strategies.

Screen Time Weaning Tips

1- Lead By Example

Kid see, kid do.  Show your kid there is more to life than video games, TV and YouTube.  It’s meal time, you have one hand on your fork while the other is shuffling through your smartphone, guess what’s going to happen? We’re not suggesting a complete ban on digital devices, but small tactics can pay big dividends.  Try avoiding the screen at meal time and have some quality time.

2- Go Old School

Long ago, in a distant place, there were no digital devices.  It’s true.  Back then, kids played outside, rode bikes, skipped rope, played street hockey, played tag, played board games, it was non-digital aided fun.  Have your kids enjoy these activities, a simple card game of crazy eights keeps them off their tablet and you just may have fun yourself.  Activities like these also go a long way in strengthening the parent-child bond and provide positive memories for your kids to look back on.

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3- Give Them The Hard Truth

Kids are smart, explain to them the harm of excessive screen time and they will be receptive.  The end goal here is to come across as a parent looking out for your kid, as opposed to the mean, strict, fun police.  Explain why screen time limits exercise and why exercise is good, and explain why excessive screen time can effect there mood.

4- I’m Offline

Set specific times throughout the day or week where there is no screen time.  A logical time to do so may be an hour before bed as this will allow them to get into a sleeping state of mind. Mealtime, the grand-parents place or when you have company over are other good times to be offline.  Try going offline on car rides to and from activities such as sports, dance class, scouts or other extra-curricular activities.  Use this time to talk about the activity, it will get you both more engaged.

5- Be The Parent

Don’t be afraid of being the authority figure.  It is your role to set guidelines and establish healthy boundaries.  Set fair and reasonable ground rules and stick to them. 

Say No To Screen Time?

The cure to harmful effects of screen time isn’t no screen time, it’s screen time with boundaries.  Because screen time releases dopamine and arouses pleasure, the potential for addiction exists.   Well, chocolate brings pleasure but we’re not placing an all-out ban on Easter eggs.  Pay attention to your kid’s screen time use, and corresponding behavior.  If necessary speak to them about the effects, why you’re concerned, and don’t forget to have fun with them.

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