Electronic Devices Become ‘Digital Drugs’ When Used Too Frequently

Parents must put boundaries in place to help children deal with temptation

1770798340TROY, Ohio (November 11, 2019) – Screen addiction continues to be a major problem among children as devices can hold the power to make or break the success of their social life.

The problem, however, may extend far beyond a child’s fear of missing out on social activities among friends, according to Kathryn Lorenz, MD, with Upper Valley Family Medicine.

"Screen addiction consists of behaviors around the use of technology such as TV, phones, tablets, and gaming systems,” said Dr. Lorenz, who practices with Premier Physician Network. “Using these items too frequently and without breaks causes them to become a ‘digital drug.

Research released by the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that children eight to 10 years of age spend eight hours a day with various digital media while teenagers spend 11 hours in front of screens. More telling is that one in three children is using tablets or smartphones before developing the ability to talk.

Excessive time in front of a screen not only robs a child of hours that could be spent engaged in developmental play, but also places brain development at risk. Dr. Lorenz said brain imaging used in various studies showed that screen technology and cocaine both affect the frontal cortex of the brain in the same way – releasing dopamine and reducing a person’s impulse control.

In a world where life seems to revolve around screens, is it possible for children to limit exposure to digital devices? Yes, according to Dr. Lorenz, as long as parents are mindful to set up boundaries, follow through on rules set inside their home, and – perhaps, most importantly – lead by example.

“Parents should try to disconnect as much as possible from their electronic devices during activities with their children such as dinnertime, sports events, eating at restaurants, vacations and the hours leading up to bed,” she said. “They should also consider monitoring their own screen usage by reading daily or weekly reports on their phone.

Once parents have taken steps to control their own screen usage, they can then look at steps to help their children. Dr. Lorenz recommends the following:

Set healthy boundaries – Agree upon a set amount of time that your child can have their device and then create a plan to gradually move them to it. Consider shaving off 15 minutes every day until you get to your desired amount of screen time.

Beware of the bedroom – Don’t allow your child to house their device in their bedroom, where it is tempting to reach for it first thing in the morning or at night when they’re having difficulty falling asleep. Make sure one of your rules is to stop screen time up to one hour prior to going to bed.

Make it a privilege – Remind children that having a device or access to it is a privilege and not a right. Parents should avoid making screen time a reward to support this idea.

Make safety a priority – Make safety a regular conversation with your children, and get into the habit of monitoring what is being viewed on a device. Parents can go to commonsensemedia.org to review age-appropriate apps, games, and programs.

Create tech-free zones – Electronic devices should fit into family time, not the other way around. Designate areas of the home where devices aren’t allowed – such as the kitchen table, bedrooms or living rooms. This better allows the family to engage in conversation.

For more information about screen addiction or to schedule an appointment with a Premier Physician Network physician near you, visit PremierHealth.com/MakeAnAppointment.

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