Is Digital Heroin Addicting Children?

Category: Health

You wouldn’t give your child a syringe full of heroin, of course. But you might as well do that when you let him play Minecraft for hours on end, according to Dr. Nicholas Kardaras. Read on to learn how overexposure to electronic gadgets can affect the brain and lead to full-blown addiction...

Is Your Child Addicted to Technology?

Dr. Kardaras is the executive director of The Dunes East Hampton, one of the country’s top rehab centers and a former clinical professor at Stony Brook Medicine. He’s also the author of a new book, “Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids — and How to Break the Trance”

Everything that kids see on a digital screen is “hyper-arousing,” according to Kardaras and the research he cites. That makes sense given the hyper-competition for attention that surrounds the video game and “educational” software industries. A program that doesn’t go over the top to seize and hold a child’s attention will quickly be discarded for one that does. But the consequences of arousing children’s senses to unreal heights can be dire.

“We now know that those iPads, smartphones and Xboxes are a form of digital drug,” writes Kardara in the NY Post. “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 — as much as sex.”

baby playing with iPad

Kardara details the case of “John,” a six year-old whose mom gave him an iPad when he started kindergarten to “let him get a jump on things.” After all, John’s school has been giving iPads to younger and younger grades every year; the school even has a Minecraft Club. So it’s “educational,” right? But soon, John was addicted to Minecraft. Mom tried to take it away from him but he turned into a raging “Exorcist"-type little demon, so she let him keep it. That was a big mistake. Eventually, it took four long, tough years for John to kick his screen addiction, even with the help of Kardara and his team of addiction rehab experts.

Kardara recommends that parents not let kids get near screens before they are 12 years old. He writes, “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.”

That means give your kids real Lego, not digital imitations like Minecraft. (Lego doesn’t involve killing animals to survive, as Minecraft does. Think about that for a moment.) Give them books instead of iPads or e-readers. Forget about cell phones before 7th grade. Keep all things digital away from the dinner table. (That includes you, Mom and Dad.) Enforce strict limits on daily screen time of all types: TV, phones, computers, tablets - and no exceptions for “schoolwork” time. Every minute in front of a screen is bad for your child, no matter what its purpose.

"Not My Kid…"

That’s where a lot of parents will disagree with the good doctor, not because they know better than he but because screens are more convenient than any other form of babysitting entertainment. I often see parents hand their phones to a crying toddler in public; magically, the kid quiets right down. You will have a very hard time convincing such a parent that this is a bad thing. (Most people around them would agree it’s a good thing, and the kid’s long-term mental health be damned.)

It's not just kindergartners and pre-teens who experience digital addiction. I've seen this first-hand in teenagers who literally melt down when the gadgets are confiscated, or if screen time is limited. Aside from that, it concerns me that every spare moment of a typical teenager's life is spent texting, gaming or consuming inane videos. Just a few years ago, the prevailing wisdom was "Keep computers in a public space in your home, and monitor what your kids are watching or doing online." With mobile devices, that's impossible. Kids live in a digital fantasy world, exposed to age-inappropriate content and influences that parents would never permit, if they were even aware of it.

One of the criticisms of Kadara’s book, repeated in several reviews, is that it relies almost exclusively upon anecdotes drawn from his practice. His patients are all far-gone addicts, hardly representative of the general population. He alludes to “hundreds of studies” that support his view that screen-time, in and of itself, is harmful. It would be nice if he reviewed in-depth at least one of the studies, describing its methodology and results in detail.

But Kadara is telling us what we have been told since the 1970s, when television was the insidious “electronic drug” of the previous generation. See “The Plug-in Drug" by Marie Winn (1977). I have to wonder when a generation of parents will wake up and listen.

Kids should be outdoors whenever the weather is survivable. They should be dirty, and wet, and smelly when they get home. They should be getting all the Vitamin D they need from natural sunlight, not from pills or fortified milk.

Have you, or parents you know, tried to set limits on screen time for your kids? Was there a positive result? Your comments are welcome.

 
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Most recent comments on "Is Digital Heroin Addicting Children?"

Posted by:

Shlomo
07 Sep 2016

Great, Bob! It is all very true. Thanks for posting.


Posted by:

Therrito
07 Sep 2016

I admit that I was a victim of Screen Addiction on at least two different occasions. At one point in time I stayed awake for 56 hours in front of the computer. To some extent I still am a victim but not to that extreme extent.
Thank you for this article, Bob. Hopefully parents will heed the warnings and take appropriate action.


Posted by:

Bill Whisler
07 Sep 2016

I agree Bob; most of the children today appear to be brain dead. My grandchildren can’t talk to you as they have their head buried in their I-Phones “texting” and a set of ear-buds in there ears listening, to their “I Tunes”, not having any idea what is going on around them!!! Bill


Posted by:

Nezzar
07 Sep 2016

Bob, Thanks much for a wonderful article. My son is grown now, but his dad and I did limit his time in front of the computer when he was growing up. Of course, that was pre-Minecraft, but the principle still stands.
You are so on target when you say that kids need Legos and time spent outside, running and playing, and should not be glued to a screen. I just hope that your sound advice will be heeded by all who read this very informative article.


Posted by:

sl
07 Sep 2016

This smacks of the age-old "sheesh, kids today!" mentality which can be traced back to ancient Greece even. The idea that kids should not "get near" screens until they are 12 is virtually impossible in today's world. Kids (and adults) need to learn how to manage screen time and recognize bad habits before they get out of control. Saying "every minute in front of a screen is bad for your child" is overly simplistic. I agree that it would be good if the book author properly cited some of the "hundreds of studies" he refers to.


Posted by:

Pat C.
07 Sep 2016

My woman's grand kids visit nearly every weekend, rain or shine, snow or no. They have a lot of room to play with various kid stuff to tear up. I get to watch the 'brats' and fix whatever they wreck. There's no videos, texting, Ipods, cell phones or any of that stuff and tv watching is very limited. They are the happiest bunch of manics I've seen since I was doing the same with my kin out at my grand pa's farm. I understand most folks don't have the means for doing that and I feel for them. Letting the young'ns get dirty, hungry and tired from running around like nuts doing kid stuff is a blessing.


Posted by:

Pat C.
07 Sep 2016

My woman's grand kids visit nearly every weekend, rain or shine, snow or no. They have a lot of room to play with various kid stuff to tear up. I get to watch the 'brats' and fix whatever they wreck. There's no videos, texting, Ipods, cell phones or any of that stuff and tv watching is very limited. They are the happiest bunch of manics I've seen since I was doing the same with my kin out at my grand pa's farm. I understand most folks don't have the means for doing that and I feel for them. Letting the young'ns get dirty, hungry and tired from running around like nuts doing kid stuff is a blessing.


Posted by:

Jose
07 Sep 2016

I am one of the rebel parents; yes, I disagree. I believe that the reason that most experts assume that the exposure to electronics is counter-productive, is because they also assume that modern parenting is involved. My children have free exposure to electronics, they even get bored of them, and come back to the real world to play. They know that it is not their right to use electronics, but that they are permitted to do so. They are constantly audited about the content they access. And yes, we tell them NO every time they cross behavioral boundaries, nothing will happen to them, as nothing happened to us.


Posted by:

Herb
07 Sep 2016

What a wonderful article, Bob. I only wish there was some way to get it in front of every adult who cares for children of any age.


Posted by:

marge201
08 Sep 2016

What about fully grown adults? I get into the elevator in my 26-story apartment building and probably 50 percent of the people have their eyes on their phone. Can't put the friggin' thing down for an elevator ride? A 50- or 60-something asks me a question and immediately pulls out her phone. I stop talking. She asks why. "I say put down the friggin' phone." I'm going to start carrying around a newspaper and as soon as someone looks at their phone during a conversation, I'm going to open up the newspaper in front of my head. IT'S THE SAME EXACT THING. I couldn't be without the smartphone or computer but in its place!! It's getting stupider & stupider!!


Posted by:

Rhonda Lea Fries
08 Sep 2016

What a load of horse pucky.

Consider my grandson. He's 7. He has had screen access since he was about 2.

He loves Pokémon Go. When we're in the car, he gets all the Poké Stops (and any Pokémon that pop up).

If we go to the park to do the Poké Stop circuit, however, he's straight for the playground. He makes some new friends of those who are also there playing, and I'm left to my own devices while he does his thing.

Ant has never had any restrictions on his screen time, which is why, in my opinion, he has no problem walking away from the tablet, the phone or the computer when something real-life interesting comes along.

It's the parents who limit usage, thereby making it all the more desirable, who have issues with their kids.

Dr. Psychotherapist is like many mental health so-called professionals who demonize specific aspects of modern life to make a buck. But hey, it's a living.


Posted by:

Mary Oak
08 Sep 2016

Thanks for posting this informative article. Scary and true. The plug-in drug has become a cordless one. I hope awareness can be raised on this issue and appreciate your getting the word out to your tech-bent audience.


Posted by:

Mary Oak
08 Sep 2016

Thanks for posting this informative article. Scary and true. The plug-in drug has become a cordless one. I hope awareness can be raised on this issue and appreciate your getting the word out to your tech-bent audience.


Posted by:

David
08 Sep 2016

Just like other forms of addiction, screen addiction affects people unevenly. One person can drink alcohol in moderation while another can't take a sip without going on a bender.

I know young people, including children, who simply aren't interested in screens. Others use them like textbooks - only when necessary. Still others are true addicts who will eat your face if you take their "fix" away from them.

It doesn't seem to correlate strongly to parenting style. That is, children exposed to screens early may turn out any way. It doesn't seem to matter whether the parents are screen addicts, either.


Posted by:

Cathryn M.
08 Sep 2016

I wonder if this is too little to late. With technology being encouraged in school now and version #'s high on xbox and Playstation coming out. How do you say no? I'm a grandparent but even with my now adult child I remember playing xbox with her. Of course not the war games, but even with Mario there is violence. I just have to wonder if it's too late. You can only move forward, you can't go back.

C.


Posted by:

pmwill
09 Sep 2016

Bob, this a great topic and so very true. As a baby Boomer and having wasted enough of my own time at the CRT and Trekking. I have also witnessed how the electronic marvels are stripping away the time we spend together as parents and family. There is no simple answer but the truth is always great to hear.
Thanks as Always
Phil


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