Interactive Screen Time: What Is It Really Doing To Our Children?

Interactive Screen Time: What Is It Really Doing To Our Children?

New research suggests that technology addiction is like a digital heroine.  Have you ever gone on vacation just to see your kids sitting in front of their iPads and smart phones playing Minecraft or checking their Instagram and Snapchat?  What starts out as a little bit of screen time can lead to a dangerous addiction.  Understanding how interactive screen time can hurt the brain is extremely important.  Overuse of electronics is known to increase your child's risk of diabetes.  This blog offers links to experts in the field, a Ted Talk and an opt out form you can give to your child's school to decrease interactive screen time.

"We now know that those iPads, smartphones and Xboxes are a form of digital drug. 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." writes Dr. Nicholas Kardaras.  Dr. Kardaras is executive director of The Dunes East Hampton, one of the country’s top rehabs, former clinical professor at Stony Brook Medicine and author of the book "Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids — and How to Break the Trance." 


Overuse of an interactive screen can damage a developing brain similar to that of drug use.  Dr. Kardaras provides a wealth of information related to how screen time is impacting the young brain.  His Ted Talk provides insight into the dangers of technology addiction.  We as parents have had that intuitive sense that our children should not plant themselves in front a screen for gaming or smart devices for unlimited periods of time.  But we continually ask the question how much is too much and what can it really do to our children's brains?

Over 200 peer reviewed studies demonstrate that screen time can lead to addiction. China has identified internet addiction as their number one health crisis. MRI’s show microstructural abnormalities that mirror drug addiction in the frontal cortex of the brain. The frontal cortex controls the brain's executive decision making function. It also directs impulse control. ADHD and addiction have to do with the frontal cortex. When children mature, their brains are more able to handle the hyperstimulation from a screen. However less developed brains cannot handle such high levels of brain stimulation.


Age of exposure is key.  Children’s brains are developing rapidly. Clinical disorders correlate to early exposure.  A child that is under 10 years old is not equipped to handle such a stimulating electronic device.  Top Silicon valley tech executives and engineers put their children in non-tech Waldorf elementary schools.  Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page went to Montessori schools as did Amazon creator Jeff Bizos and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. Technology is so hyper-arousing that it raises dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that makes you feel good. This hyperarousal aspect affects sleep. Overuse of screens hurts your posture and creates hormonal imbalances and cravings.  It leads to stagnant staring at a screen instead of enjoying the outdoors.

2010, Steve Jobs was interviewed at the unveiling of the iPad.  When asked what his children thought about the iPad he said that his children didn't have one.  He didn't allow his children on electronic devices until the age of 10.

Dr Peter Whybrow, the director of neuroscience at UCLA calls screens “electronic cocaine.” Chinese researchers call them digital heroine and Dr. Andrew Doan head of addiction research for the Petagon and the Navy, recent video game addiction researcher, calls video games and screen technologies digital pharmakeia.

Barry Sears, PhD states, "The reason children spend so much screen time is because  it can be addictive due to the constant activation of the dopamine reward system.  That same activation also increases the desire for foods (rich in sugar and fat) that also activate the same reward system. The more those  foods that are consumed, the greater the development of insulin resistance."

According to an AAP ( American Academy of Pediatrics ) 2013 study, 8 to 10 year olds spend on average 8 hrs a day in front of their screens and teenagers spend 11 hours! 

AAP screen media recommendations as of October, 2016:

  • For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they're seeing.
  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
  • For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health. 
  • Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
  • Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.


Common Sense Media has some excellent recommendations on how to create healthy limits on screen time for your child. Be involved in how your child is using his or her device.  In addition, make sure that you encourage ample outdoor activities and other things that do not involve screen use.  According to Dr. Kardaras, you can request your child’s school opt out of ipads and chrome books and ask for your school to limit computer usage. If you believe your child is spending so much screen time that there may be an addiction problem, gradually reduce exposure eventually stopping their screen usage altogether for 4 - 6 weeks.  If this is unrealistic, then reducing screen time and visiting a psychologist or medical professional who can assist you may be necessary.  Then create a healthy digital plan for your child. Our next blog will provide activities that don't involve screens.


Back to blog