“That’s right-your child’s brain on Minecraft looks like a brain on drugs.”-Andrew Doan head of addiction research for the Pentagon and US Navy
I recently taught a Purposeful Movement class to 5 and 6 year olds. I always like to incorporate wellness topics and the topic of the day was screens and their addictive properties. These cuties sat down in a circle surrounding a pile of ipads and phones that I had brought in. As always, I asked them not to touch my props while I speak. My heart sank when I noticed the children’s inability to not touch the devices. This same group of kids who typically exhibit GREAT self -control, simply could not resist touching the devices to watch the screens light up. I felt thankful for the opportunity to be able to share the following warning with them: We now know that ipads, smartphones, and Xboxes are all forms of digital drugs. I asked the group what they knew about cigarettes. Surprisingly, even at this young age, the kids were well educated on the dangers of smoking. “They give you black lungs, they make you cough, they give you a creaky voice.” They knew countless stories of people who died from smoking. This was the perfect lead-in into what the word “addiction” means. I explained to them that a long time ago, people did not know that smoking was harmful or addictive. I then was able to show them that too much screen time was addictive and harmful to our brains in the same way that cigarettes are. The research is out and now it’s our own responsibility to use screens in moderation. Adults and children alike need to help each other. Even though both adults and youth need to heed caution, we should be especially concerned for our children as their brains are still maturing. I am not a neuroscientist but I can’t help but worry that addictive pathways are being formed at very young ages because of our digital culture. How much more pre-disposed are these kids to serious drug and alcohol addiction with casual use later on in life?
Interestingly, most tech designers and tech engineers are very very strict about technology use with their own children. We know that Steve Jobs did not allow his kids to have phones. Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page went to no-tech Montessori Schools as did Amazon creator Jeff Bezos and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. Dr. Peter Whybrow, director of neuroscience at UCLA, calls screens “electronic cocaine” and states that technology is so hyper-arousing that it raises dopamine levels, the feel-good neurotransmitter most involved in the addiction dynamic.
I gave the students some signs to look for when it’s time to cut down on their screen time:
When you become angry when your parent gives you a 5-minute warning that screen time is up
When you sneak screens or lie about screen use
When not on screens, you have a hard time not thinking about when your next screen-time will be
You prefer being on a screens more than being around friends and family
Recommended screen time (includes any type of screen) by the Center for Parenting Education:
Children under 2 years of age-zero screen time at all
Children ages 2-10 -one hour per day
Tweens and teens-no more than two hours per day once homework is complete