Phone addiction in children is like drug abuse

Phone addiction in children is like drug abuse

We are living in a giant uncontrolled experiment with a generation of Australian children growing up exposed to an addictive technology.

Given
many of us are equally hooked to our smartphones and tablets, it is an
addiction that most adults can also understand.

What
is scary is that we are yet to see the full impact of this social phenomenon as
it currently exists, and how it is affecting not just the learning and
interactions of our children, but the structure of young brains.

Schools
are beginning to catch onto the issue, with Sydney’s prestigious Kings School
the latest to join the many which are banning technology use ‘bell to bell’,
while governments in Australia and around the world are taking action to ban or
limit phone use during school hours.

So why
all the fuss regarding technology, given as adults we use our screens almost
constantly and have not yet turned into mindless zombies?

For
those thinking they are not addicted, why not put yourself to the test and head
out for a day without your phone?

When
you do, make sure you note the level of anxiousness you feel by being
disconnected from something that is always with you, and take the rare
opportunity to look around you and view the number of heads down all staring
into screens.

If
we struggle to spend a short period away from our phones, can you imagine the
impact these devices are having on young and developing minds?

If
we struggle to spend a short period away from our phones, can you imagine the
impact these devices are having on young and developing minds. Picture: iStock

There
are many children who have grown up with almost unrestricted access to screens,
which has impacted their ability to reach developmental milestones and
functional capacities, including self-regulation, impulse control, a desire to
learn, to persevere and to be creative.

Coverage
of the school bans and recent World Health Organisation declarations around
gaming and screen use has seen many parents begin to question whether they
should be restricting their children’s access to technology at home.

The
answer is an emphatic ‘Yes’, as when it comes to young minds, learning and short-term
memory are impeded if the brain is distracted, distressed or sleep- deprived.

On
a daily basis, I work directly with children and their parents, often inside
the family setting, trying to repair the effects of behavioural issues caused
through problematic internet use.

Violent
rages are common as parents attempt to prevent access to the online world, and
I have worked with many terrified parents who have either been, or believe they
will be, assaulted by their own child if they do not switch the Wi-Fi back on.

Such
violent responses are not surprising as we become more aware of the potential
cognitive, psychological and social challenges resulting from online gaming and
social media platforms, with the latest neuroscience research indicating that
the impact of excessive online use on the brain being similar to substance
abuse.

The
short-term implications are clear: physically measurable changes in the brain,
poor grades, poor sleep, anxiety, depression, disconnection from family and
increased aggressive or violent outbursts.

We
have the first generation of children who are sleep and touch deprived, with
many beginning their school life unprepared and at a disadvantage.

Recent
research from Canada shows that children between the ages of two and three who
are exposed to more than two hours of screen time are five times more likely to
have significant behavioural and learning challenges and seven times more
likely to meet the criteria for ADHD.

The
evidence is mounting for both the short, and long-term effects of poor
learning, performance and social consequences due to distraction from
technology.

To
combat these serious consequences we need to see technology use banned across
all schools and their use restricted in our homes.

This
will not be an easy change to implement and will require parents to set
standards by restricting their own use of technology and applying strict rules
that limits technology use to the WHO standard.

That means no access to screens for children under the
age of two and limited and monitored access of one hour per day for those aged
two to five and two hours per day for those over five.

As
adults we all have a role to play to reverse the damage that over exposure to
screens and the digital world has had upon our children and work to restore a
sense of humanity into our schools, families and the broader community.

Making
these changes will be tough, but not nearly as tough as dealing with the
psychological impacts on our children if we do nothing.

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