How long can you go without looking at a screen? A minute? An hour? What about your children? For kids growing up in the digital age, it might be hard for them to imagine life without being glued to some sort of screen. The term “addictive” gets used somewhat frequently and casually, but when describing kids’ obsessions with screens, it’s actually a pretty accurate term. Dubbed “digital heroin” and “electronic cocaine” by some researchers, digital devices are also found to affect the brain’s frontal cortex in the same way that cocaine does. In a recent New York Post story, a mother describes how her son began playing his iPad for educational games but gradually became less engaged and interested in other activities and began throwing tantrums when it was time to take the iPad away. One night when the mother went to make sure he was asleep, “She found him sitting up in his bed staring wide-eyed, his bloodshot eyes looking into the distance as his glowing iPad lay next to him. He seemed to be in a trance.” While this is a dramatic example, it’s one to consider when you feel like your child is becoming too involved with his Xbox, iPad, or smartphone. Read on for more reasons why exercising caution is a must when it comes to screentime.
First and foremost, kids need social interaction, the opportunity to develop a relationship with the natural world around them, and the chance to have real-life experiences and real-life reactions to those experiences as part of the learning, coping, and developing process. One study even showed the possibility that kids who spend more time using screen devices are not as able to read nonverbal emotional cues. With an estimated one in ten people predisposed toward addictive tendencies, it is undeniably difficult to stop or limit screentime, especially for young kids who can’t see the longview importance of social skills and brain development. That’s why we, as parents, have to be the ones who lead the way. The doctor who authored the New York Post article, a rehab specialist, offered this as a frightening warning: “Once a kid has crossed the line into true tech addiction, treatment can be very difficult. Indeed, I have found it easier to treat heroin and crystal meth addicts than lost-in-the-matrix video gamers or Facebook-dependent social media addicts.”
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Another recent study found that giving kids iPads before surgery was as effective as a sedative. Having a drug-free option to calm kids before a nerve-wracking procedure is a good thing, but what is the effect on kids who are using upwards of eight to ten hours of screentime each day? The American Academy of Pediatrics recently updated their guidelines, with recommendations of two hours or less of screentime for kids on a daily basis. Each child and family situation is different, but clearly, many kids are using screens for three and four times what is considered healthy.
The boy in the article mentioned herein has shown much progress over the past four years, as the result of developing healthy habits and support from family… but he has also experienced several setbacks. His success is wonderful news, but it begs the question: Wouldn’t it have been easier for everyone if screentime rules and restrictions had been developed before it became a destructive addiction? The allure of these tech gadgets is not going to go away, so it’s up to us as parents to keep kids from heading down the path of screen addiction or at least to set up plenty of roadblocks along the way.
via New York Post