Experts call it “electronic cocaine.” Parents call it “screen time.” No matter the name, electronics are fueling a whole new kind of addiction, and it’s affecting children as young as six years old.
What exactly is screen addiction, and what can parents do to stop it?
According to recent brain imaging research, electronics affect the frontal cortex of the brain – the area responsible for impulse control and executive functioning – in the same way cocaine does. Humans are so hyper-aroused by electronics that they raise dopamine levels as much as sex.
It’s no wonder parents have a hard time peeling their children away from their screens.
But the same device that causes heightened dopamine levels also causes aggression, depression and anxiety, clinical studies have shown.
The 2013 Policy Statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics revealed that kids between 8 and 10 years of age spend 8 hours per day with digital media. Teenagers get about 11 hours of screen time per day. One in three children are using smartphones and tablets before they can even talk.
Experts worry that screen time is getting in the way of children learning how to communicate and forge healthy relationships. Unfortunately, adults are not helping the situation. Parents are just as glued to their smartphones and iPads – even when they are supposed to be spending quality time with the children.
It’s not uncommon to see tables of families glued to their phones in restaurants. Rather than talking and laughing with each other, family members are texting or emailing others. The constant screen time is preventing kids from learning how to communicate.
What can parents do to break the addiction, or prevent it from taking hold?
The most obvious answer is to limit screen time, but adults will have to be on board with this, too.
Replace Screen Time with Another Activity
Go beyond just limiting screen time. Replace it with another activity. Be creative. Hobbies are a great place to start. Family game nights, sports and creative projects are all great ways to engage children without electronics.
The important thing is to find an activity that the child enjoys.
Make Use of Parental Controls
Parents who have a hard time enforcing screen time rules can use parental controls to lay down the law. Most tablets and smartphones have their own controls, but a parental control app may offer a more robust set of features and customization.
Be Firm about the Rules
Don’t give into slamming doors and attitudes. Stick to the rules once they are set, and be firm about it. Find rules that work well, and enforce them.
Make Technology Productive
A tech-obsessed child may have a passion that can be channeled into something more productive. Enrolling a child in a programming or an app design class may help them discover a future career they enjoy.
Rather than just restricting a child’s access to screen time, parents can teach their children the purpose of technology and what it’s capable of.
Children must be computer literate to survive in today’s world, but teaching them how to use it responsibly can go a long way in preventing addiction.