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In recent years, we have seen an upsurge in what can be termed as ‘digital addiction’ in our kids, turning them into screen junkies with a ‘digital heroin’ tech addiction. It does seem extreme to use that term but it is definitely something we as parents should give some thought to. 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 alone suffer from tech or digital addiction. But what exactly is this digital addiction? What are the others doing about it? How can it be dealt with and what tools can we as parents start using now to help our children develop healthier relationships with technology? Is digital addiction real or one of those many fads to scare us?
Remember, back in the day, when our parents used to tell us that sitting too close to the TV would give us square eyes? We know that’s not true now but experts are continually saying that there are real dangers to exposing our children to technology too early.
According to Dr Aric Sigman, a Fellow of Britain’s Royal Society of Medicine, screen time and the digital era is the very thing impeding the development of the abilities and skills that parents are so enthusiastic to foster in their kids. The ability to concentrate, focus, to lend attention, to widen one’s vocabulary, to sense another’s attitude and communicate with them – all those abilities are impaired through this digital addiction.
This is the case because most of the issues lie with the number of stimuli the device offer us because these devices give us the ability to process multiple actions in one instance. Hence, we are taking away the need for younger minds to process the information themselves.
Put it this way: unlike a mother reading a story to a child, a smartphone-told story spoon-feeds 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, visualize images and exert a level of mental effort to follow a story line, kids who follow stories on their smartphone get lazy because their devices does the thinking for them and, as a result, their own cognitive muscles remain weak.
Like other addictions, screen time creates considerable changes in brain chemistry. The most notable is the release of dopamine. Known as the ‘pleasure chemical’, dopamine is the key to a number of addictions. So, the more dopamine that is released while kids are on their screens, the more time they’ll spend looking for that next dopamine ‘hit’. This is why it’s called digital heroin because it’s an addiction in its truest sense.
These warning signs can vary from child to child and can be influenced by a number of factors, like their home environment as well as their social and economic standing. However, the following are some of the most common warning sign you need to watch out for:
Once parents have spotted the warning signs, they often look to introduce a screen time solution to combat the situation. Whether that’s an actual app or a simpler approach like 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.
The goals here 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.