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We’ve all seen kids hypnotically staring at glowing screens in restaurants, in playgrounds and in friends’ house. Like a virtual scourge, the illuminated glowing faces are multiplying. But at what cost. Is this just a harmless indulgence or fad like some sort of digital hula-hoop? Some say that glowing screens might even be good for kids, a form of interactive educational tool. 
Don’t believe it. 

We now know that iPads, smartphones and Xboxes etc are a form of digital drug. Recent brain imaging research is showing that they affect the brain’s frontal cortex which controls executive functioning, including impulse control in exactly the same way that cocaine does. Technology is so hyper-arousing that it raises dopamine levels, the feel-good neurotransmitter most involved in the addiction dynamic. This addictive effect is why Dr. Peter Whybrow, director of neuroscience at UCLA, calls screens “electronic cocaine” and Chinese researchers call them “digital heroin.”  In fact, Dr. Andrew Doan, the head of addiction research for the Pentagon and the US Navy who has been researching addiction calls video games and screen technologies “digital pharmakeia” (Greek for drug). That’s right, both you and your child’s brain on these platforms looks like a brain on drugs. Is it any wonder then that we have a hard time getting kids and ourselves off the screens.

Children in particular are vulnerable and developmental psychologists outline that children’s healthy development involves social interaction, creative imaginative play and an engagement with the real, natural world. Unfortunately, the addictive world of screens is having a detrimental effect on children’s developmental processes. But this is not just happening to children it is also happening to adults and apart from the social disconnect the health implications are enormous.

According to a 2013 Policy Statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics, 8- to 10 year-olds spend 8 hours a day with various digital media while teenagers spend 11 hours in front of screens. One in three kids are using tablets or smartphones before they can talk. Meanwhile, the handbook of “Internet Addiction” by Dr. Kimberly Young states that 18 percent of college-age internet users in the US suffer from tech addiction.

Once a person crosses over the line into full-blown addiction be that drug, digital or otherwise they need to detox before any other kind of therapy can have any chance of being effective. With tech, that means a full digital detox, no computers, no smartphones, no tablets. The extreme digital detox even eliminates television. The prescribed amount of time is four to six weeks; that’s the amount of time that is usually required for a hyper-aroused nervous system to reset itself. But that’s not an easy task in our current tech-filled society where screens are ubiquitous. A person can live without drugs or alcohol; with tech addiction, digital temptations are everywhere.

In Glow Kids, a new book by Dr. Nicholas Kardaras he points out how technology, more specifically, age-inappropriate screen tech, with all of its glowing ubiquity has profoundly affected the brains of an entire generation. Brain imaging research is showing that stimulating glowing screens are dopaminergic (dopamine activating) to the brain’s pleasure center. He also outlines the growing mountain of clinical research that correlates screen tech with disorders like ADHD, addiction, anxiety, depression, increased aggression, insomnia and even psychosis. Most shocking of all, recent brain imaging studies conclusively show that excessive screen exposure can neurologically damage a young person’s developing brain in the same way that cocaine addiction can. 

The real question now is can we reset the human being back to its human settings. What I mean is can we and our children be reconnected to the natural frequency of life and living or are we forever trapped in this growing addictive cyber world, becoming physically sick, emotionally disconnected, and challenged mentally. There is no doubt that the world as we know it is changing fast, and I believe we shouldn’t fear this change, but we must not lose sight of the fact that we are spiritual beings also and if we neglect this it throws us into chaos.

The chaos and turbulence in the world presently is creating huge fear because of the uncertainty and insecurity however, I truly feel we can be in control and emerge a more in tune human being. This is what I deal with every day in my clinic.

So how do we keep our children from crossing this line? It’s not easy.

  • The key is to prevent your 4-, 5- or 8-year-old from getting hooked on screens to begin with.
  • Try board games, jigsaws, something that all the family can be involved in.
  • Read books instead.
  • Get out in nature and play sports instead of watching TV.
  •  If you have to, demand that your child’s school not give them electronic devices until they are at least 12 years old.
  • Have honest discussions about why you are limiting their screen access.
  • Eat dinner with your children without any electronic devices at the table — just as the late Steve Jobs used to have tech-free dinners with his kids.
  • Don’t fall victim to “Distracted Parent Syndrome” — as we know from Social Learning Theory, “Monkey see, monkey do.”
  • Have honest conversations about why as a family you don’t need to be on devices or playing video games all the time.
  • Explain, that many people and kids have a hard time stopping or controlling how much they play games or the excessive time they spend on social media.
  • Parents need to understand that if their kids get caught up with screens and games like some of their friends have, other parts of their lives may suffer.
  • Visit if you wish to find out more about this research.

I deal with this problem each week in my clinic as parents have no place to turn to for solutions. Parents are struggling to win back their children from the claws of the digital world. While we all acknowledge that this is our future and it can be positive there is need for regulation in particular where children are involved. Parents and all of us need to be mindful of the information being delivered through these platforms because it does have an impact. The time has come to reset and reconnect to the real meaning of family and life and we must never lose the wisdom of the elders in our families and society. We can evolve as humans alongside this tech world but we must not allow it to control us or replace our spirituality.

Michael O Doherty.

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