Parenting

Psychologist: Easier to Treat Heroin Addicts Than Video Gamers or Facebook Addicts

According to Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, “iPads, smartphones and Xboxes are a form of digital drug” and it’s time parents intervene before it is too late.

In a recent news article Kardaras, author of Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids – and How to Break the Trance, detailed his experience treating one six-year-old patient who had become an iPad addict. Unable to break away from the screen, he experienced levels of psychological and emotional dependency previously known only to drug addicts. He explains:

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.

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 video game addiction — calls video games and screen technologies “digital pharmakeia” (Greek for drug).

Kardaras recommends a strict cold turkey method for treating tech addiction among minors. However, it is interesting to note that television, while included in the process, is relatively low on the list of dangerous screens. This, perhaps, has to do with the level of control the user has over the outcome shown on the screen. Unlike computers or smart devices, traditional television programming does not permit the user to choose the course of events as they unfold, or determine the outcome of the narrative. A child can’t feed their impulses with television the way they can with video games or “learning” games on an electronic device. You can’t swipe a TV screen to make something happen, at least not yet.

That may be the saving grace for parents who struggle with screen exposure at home. It isn’t necessarily what your child is looking at, but how they are interacting with it. So, a little television under the watchful eye of mom and dad isn’t as detrimental as you’ve been led to believe. If anything, you’re better off opting for an episode of “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” than handing a tablet loaded with learning games to your three-year-old.

In fact, any treat properly given presents an opportunity to teach your toddler impulse control. Each time “Daniel Tiger” ends and the television is turned off, my son pounds his fists and whines. He does the same when it’s time for a grandparent to leave. No one wants a good party to end. So, we take the time to talk about how he’s feeling and redirect his attention to the next activity, perhaps including a way he can physically express his emotion (like crawling up the stairs) since words aren’t really available to him yet.

The key with any learning experience is not to take on more than you or your child can handle. As Dr. Kardaras explains:

In my clinical work with over 1,000 teens over the past 15 years, I have found the old axiom of “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” to be especially true when it comes to tech addiction. 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.