Is Screen Time Like Digital Heroin?

Earlier this week, a provocative article came out in the NY Post titled It’s Digital Heroin: How Screens Turn Kids into Psychotic Junkies. The author, Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, presented brain imaging research showing screens impact the frontal cortex the same way that cocaine does. Additionally, he described kids becoming “bored, apathetic, uninteresting and uninterested when not plugged in.” Similar results have been described in many research papers and articles.

He described kids becoming “bored, apathetic, uninteresting and uninterested when not plugged in.

Over the past several years, I have taken a keen interest in this topic and have learned a lot through research, listening to parents discuss their experiences, and observing kids who spend a lot of time on screens and kids who don’t.

both kids on screens

As their brains become more consumed by their virtual worlds, they are less interested in the types of activities that are so important for physical, intellectual and social development.

The biggest problem I have seen with kids who spend great quantities of time on screens  is just what Dr. Kardaras states in the article. These kids get bored easily when they do not have their screens. The world becomes less interesting to them.  As their brains become more consumed by their virtual worlds, they are less interested in the types of activities that are so important for physical, intellectual and social development including playing outside, participating in sports, building Legos, drawing, scouting, and so forth. Concentration levels decrease making even reading a book challenging.  WebMD found “grades began to decline steadily after just 45 minutes of screen time and dropped even more significantly after 2 hours. More screen time led to greater sleeping problems, too.”

On the other hand, the kids I have seen who engage in little or no screen time are some of the most creative, well-mannered, and happy children around. I don’t hear “I’m bored” come out of their mouths often or if ever. Instead, they find many interesting things to do at home and when they are out with friends and family. They aren’t thinking about a screen because it is not part of their routine or a big part of their day.

smile fort
Kids are more likely to be creative and social at home when they can’t jump on a computer whenever they want.

I believe excessive screen time and physical inactivity are responsible for many kids’, though certainly not all,  ADD and ADHD diagnoses. Children as young as kindergarten and 1st grade are now being prescribed psychotropic drugs like Ritalin so they can sit still in class and not be disruptive. Before I put my children on any type of mind-altering drug, I would do some heavy-duty research about long-term consequences and other side effects. Furthermore, I would go cold turkey on screens and spend copious amounts of time out in nature before even considering those drugs. I would also look at educational alternatives such as homeschool before my kids began ingesting them.

I am not anti-screens with my kids. Though, I admit, I always cringe a little when I see they are playing a computer game. They earn their screen time just like a person earns a paycheck. For a full load of school work and chores, they earn 25 minutes per day. If they have less work then their earned screen time decreases. I don’t ban it altogether. Sometimes things become even more desirable when they are entirely forbidden.

I do not buy the argument that video games  are good because they help you to understand technology. On the other hand, strategic use of technology has great benefits. I welcome teaching kids how to use technology to make them more productive and professional.

I do not buy the argument that video games  are good because they help you to understand technology. I agree there is excellent technology to enhance work and learning. I embrace that. However, sitting around playing video games is not an effective tool in teaching one to use effective technology.

On the other hand, strategic use of technology has great benefits. I’m teaching a blogging and 21st-century skills class at our homeschool co-op in the fall. We will incorporate some strategic uses of technology including creating and delivering Power Point presentations, developing blogs, conducting research and graphing it with Google Sheets and much more. I welcome teaching kids how to use technology to make them more productive and professional. This is a smart use of technology in my opinion.

I am not a doctor. I am  sharing my opinion for your consideration. I believe this information is important with all my heart. I urge you to do your own research on this topic and draw your own conclusions. If your screen-addicted kid’s behavior is not satisfactory by your standards or is not interested in too much beyond his tablet, consider setting limits or getting rid of it altogether. I think 30-45 minutes per day is more than enough. You may try going cold turkey for 3 months. I bet you’d be surprised how your child started to find the world and other people interesting again after getting over the initial shock of losing screen time.

In the article, Dr. Kardaras states, “The key is to prevent your 4-, 5- or 8-year-old from getting hooked on screens to begin with. That means Lego instead of Minecraft; books instead of iPads; nature and sports instead of TV.”

Kate smiling

One of the most important and impactful parenting books I have ever read is The Last Child in the Woods:Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. I wish all parents would read it. You can buy it on Amazon through this link here or perhaps get it at your library.

http://amzn.to/2bWTx5Y

156512605X
There are so many book excerpts I’d love to include here from Last Child in the Woods. Here are a few:

TV in the Car?

Constructively Bored Mind Versus a Negatively Numbed Mind

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2 thoughts on “Is Screen Time Like Digital Heroin?

  1. Fantastic article! You have made many invaluable points about what is becoming an epidemic problem. I truly believe that screens are the cause of the increased diagnoses of ADD. I am often in a room with a group of boys who have a 75-80% rate of taking prescribed meds for this. I do believe some really have ADD (and I know you are not disputing this), and it makes their life miserable, perhaps more so than a ‘typical’ child’s would be. A child who might be manageable, if a little hyper and unfocused (despite exercise and other interventions) becomes a raving lunatic when addicted to screens. They crave it and it makes them that much more impatient and irritable. They seek the screen time the way a junkie craves pills. No exaggeration- up at 4am unable to fall back asleep and wanting to play, taking the house apart to find hidden remotes, living for that moment they get their beloved screen reward, sulking and negotiating the rest of the time. It is a painful and miserable way to live. My biggest challenge as a homeschooler was getting anything done at home with the screens lurking in plain sight. This challenge from a child who gets attention, exercise, one on one schooling and participates in music, church, scouting, travel etc. I can only imagine the strain for a child in school and daycare all day. I could go on and on, but get out of the house, into nature, into sports, anywhere but that screen. If you do allow it in small doses, be hyper vigilant in holding to that. Thanks for another interesting and timely piece.I enjoy and learn from all of them!

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    1. Thanks for your insightful reply, Valerie. Your statement about being in a room with a group of boys with about 75%-80% being on meds is very troubling. I agree with your point that there are legitimate cases, but these mind-altering drugs are far too overprescribed. The side effects and long-term impacts after they have been on these drugs for years is concerning. I’ve talked to so many parents and witnessed kids who are obsessed with screens and lack interest to do anything else. As parents, I feel it is our responsibility to set limits so they can thrive physically, socially and intellectually. Let them see the beauty and joy in life!

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