Brains can become dependent on and addicted to using screens
These days, you can’t go anywhere without seeing people looking down at their smartphones. And any home that has kids has video game consoles, laptops, and tablets – screens are everywhere, and our children, who have grown up with them, are becoming more and more dependent on them in their daily lives.
It used to be that kids would go outside and play, ride their bikes, and interact with other kids. Families would have game nights that consisted of board games and real conversations. Unfortunately, those activities seem to be a thing of the past. Kids and adults alike are turning to screens and away from human interaction. It’s easy to start playing video games, using social media, or binge-watch television shows, and spend much more time than doing so than you originally intended. And it often becomes more appealing to play or watch than to go do some other activity. There is far less physical interaction with other people, and it’s affecting relationships.
Teens and tweens are especially susceptible to the pull that addiction to screens has, and it’s more than just a behavioral habit. In his recent article in the New York Post, Dr. Richard Kardaras refers to screens as a “digital drug”, “electronic cocaine”, and “digital heroin”. These are scary terms, but they are supported by research that indicates that brains can become dependent on and addicted to using screens. Using them affects dopamine (the pleasure-inducing neurotransmitter) levels in the brain, just as drug use does.
Research on the effects of playing video games is finding that the activity affects the pre-frontal cortex of the brain in precisely the same manner that cocaine use does. This area of the brain controls major functioning including attention, impulse control, motivation, organizing, planning, and the regulation of mood. It is also the area of the brain that is associated with the symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), including an inability to focus and impulsivity.
These are truly frightening findings. The fact that the use of screens can affect our children’s brains in the same way that cocaine does is cause for alarm. In addition to video games, watching television – especially binge-watching, which has become the norm, results in brain changes that mimic the same changes that addiction causes, which results in the viewer watching more and more.
In addition to the addiction issue, research shows that the overuse of screens can increase anxiety, depression, poor concentration, and even aggression in our kids. They also show that there can be significant changes in cognitive functioning and brain structure. Even those games and television shows that are considered educational can be addictive and can affect the brains of our children negatively.
How can you determine if your child is addicted to screens? You can take a look at the following list of behaviors to help you make a determination. If you are seeing more than a couple of the behaviors, then your children may be experiencing some degree of addiction to screens.
- They are using screens every day for hours.
- They prefer to use screens more than they want to participate in other age-appropriate activities.
- They become angry or resistant to turning off screens when they are asked to.
- They say they will stop, but then don’t.
- They use screens when they should be sleeping.
- They neglect other things like homework, chores, and friends to spend more time on screens.
- They struggle with attention when not using screens.
- They are uninterested and unmotivated when they are not using them.
- They lose interest in things that they used to find enjoyable.
- They experience depression or increased anxiety as their use of screens has increased.
- They have difficulty staying present in reality.
Now that you understand the signs of screen addiction, you need to understand how to prevent or reduce it. The following are some steps you can take to help your children break their screen addiction.
- Prevent it from happening in the first place. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that children under 2 years of age not be exposed to any electronic media, children 2 to 5 years of age be limited to one hour of high-quality media a day and that parents watch or play with them, and that children over 6 years old have reasonable limits place on their screen-time and that they are encouraged to participate in other, non-screen activities. The AAP also suggests that children get adequate sleep, have planned screen-free time with family, and get some physical activity each day.
- Discuss your concerns, but give your kids a voice. Having a discussion about the effects of too much screen-time is important. Let your kids know about the physical and psychological aspects of digital addiction in an age-appropriate manner. Tell them what happens when the brain becomes addicted to something. Engage them in the conversation by asking what they think they can do to prevent or reduce their dependence on screens. Pulling them into the conversation and encouraging them to come up with solutions will empower them and make them more likely to follow your plans.
- Limit screen-time. Setting limits and enforcing boundaries is part of our job as parents. Dealing with screen-time is not exempt from this. Set reasonable limits on just how much screen-time is allowed and be consistent in enforcing it. Make sure that they complete important tasks like homework and chores before they engage with screens.
- Prohibit screen-time. If your kids are already in the throes of screen addiction, you may have to prohibit their usage for a period of time. Just like the drug addict must maintain abstinence to recover, the screen-addict may have to as well. The difference is that screen-addicts don’t have to abstain forever. As their addiction eases, you can begin allowing them to use screens with consistent limitations.
- Encourage social interaction. This may mean setting up play dates for younger children or actively encouraging your older children to spend time with friends doing things that don’t require screens. Make teens feel comfortable about asking friends over for dinner and encourage them to participate in conversations.
- Set a good example. You are the role model for your children, so they notice your own screen usage. If your smartphone or tablet is never out of your reach, you can’t really expect them to think that there is anything wrong with their own usage. Limiting your use of screens will help your kids limit theirs.
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Serenity begins with a comprehensive assessment that is an exchange of information designed to provide the client with a better understanding of the processes and tools available.
By completing the right detox and substance abuse program created specifically for you it is possible to permanently overcome teen drug and alcohol addiction and go on to live a balanced life free from substance abuse.