Prevent your Kids from Becoming ADDICTs Help your child from becoming addicted to smartphones and tablets by moderating their usage.

Since the invention of smartphones and tablets, our relation to our digital devices has completely changed. Before the iPhone, there were flip phones which only allowed us to make calls and text. Now, with the invention of the smartphone, we not only can text and call, but also we can use GPS, video-chat with our families, go on social media, check the news, search the internet…the list goes on. Everything is online these days. With our smartphones and tablets, any information lies right at the tips of our fingers. In some ways, the smartphone has had a positive impact on society, in that it has allowed greater communication (one example is via social media applications like Instagram and Snapchat), and even allowed people to learn since information is so easily accessed. Smartphones and tablets offer people distractions since they provide information, a way to communicate, and even entertainment. These distractions are satisfying because they are so easy to access, and unfortunately many users can become obsessed with their phones.

People are so obsessed with their smartphones they can’t even pay attention to where they’re driving. Consider the driver who was playing the real-world Pokémon Go app on his phone in August of 2016, for example. The man failed to pay attention to the road, and ended up killing a pedestrian because he was staring at his iPhone screen.

The world’s obsession with screens has even led to the emergence of camps to rid children of their addictions to smartphones. For example, Family Bootcamp, located in Utah, is a program which attempts to treat teens of their smartphone addictions by having them spend five days in the desert of southern Utah, completely separated from their devices. The camp is supposed to promote the teenagers to have an "ah-ha" moment, realizing that they should focus on their well-being and realize that they need to make a change in their life ("The Expedition").

Socially, we are facing a crisis in which affects the mental health of children, specifically between the ages of five and ten. Children’s relationship with their devices, specially tablets and smartphones, is leading to harmful effects on their mental and social development. Children at this age are in a crucial time of growth because their brains are developing they are more vulnerable to developmental problems. Specifically, children who overuse technology are likely to develop an addiction to smartphones/tablets, and have the potential to develop ADHD. Overuse of technology by children is defined as time spent in a front of a screen exceeding two hours per day, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (Middlebrook). However, according to a recent study by the Kaiser Foundation, children between 5-10 years old spend nearly eight hours of their day using a device such as a tablet or smartphone for entertainment (Rowan).

This shows that children are spending way too much time on devices, rather than participating in other activities like playing basketball outside or simply spending time talking to their families.

Before the development of the smartphone, children entertained themselves by spending time outdoors riding bikes and playing on swing sets. These days, children rely on devices for entertainment. That is not to say that teeter totters and tricycles have been completely abandoned, but nowadays they are the less favorable form of entertainment. Children are becoming obsessed and excessively using these devices, and it’s impacting their mental capabilities. Overuse of technology, specifically tablets or smartphones, can negatively impact children’s cognitive abilities, including processing information, solving problems, and making decisions. When children spend hours each day on a tablet, they overstimulate their visual and auditory senses (Rowan). As a result, their cognitive growth can be inhibited because they can develop disorders like ADHD, a condition which includes attention difficulty, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. The disorder affects areas of the brain that control behavior, memory, thinking, planning and organizing.

The degree of impact of children spending excessive amounts of time in front of tablets and smartphones on developing ADHD is unclear. This is the case because several other factors contribute to a child’s development of the disorder, such as genetics and their mother’s habits while pregnant. If a child’s parent has ADHD, he or she has a one in two chance of inheriting the disorder (WebMD). A mother who smokes or drinks alcohol during pregnancy also contributes to a higher risk of her child developing ADHD (WebMD). Therefore, spending excessive amounts of time in front of a screen is not the sole factor which contributes to a child getting this disorder. Although multiple factors play into a child’s development of ADHD, long periods of time spent on tablets and smartphones do contribute to attention problems in children. According to a study at the University of Texas Medical School,

As a result, overuse of technology can lead children to develop ADHD.

In children, the development of ADHD and becoming addicted to technology are interrelated. According to WebMD, dopamine, a chemical in the brain, may play a part in the development of ADHD. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, controls the brain’s “reward and pleasure centers” (Evans). Normally, the chemical is produced by a neuron, or nerve cell, and released into an opening between two neurons called a synapse. The dopamine acts a chemical signal when it binds to protein receptors located on other neurons, allowing communication between neurons. A transporter protein inhibits accumulation of dopamine in the brain by removing it from the system ("How").

The video shows how the dopamine system of the brain works. In a healthy brain that receives stimulation, dopamine is produced and then removed by a transporter protein. Dopamine stimulation could refer to any sort of occurrence that makes a person happy, such as being told you are loved or even eating a delicious piece of cake.

In his Ted Talk, Simon Sinek discusses the relationship between technology and dopamine. Each time a child receives a notification, whether it be a text from a friend or a like on Instagram, a hit of dopamine in the brain is released. The release of this chemical in a child produces the same high that occurs when a person drinks alcohol, does drugs, or gambles.

Overuse of each of these things will disrupt the brain’s normal dopamine system described earlier. For example, when a person uses cocaine, dopamine is not removed from the brain because the drug binds to the transporter protein which normally removes the chemical from the brain. This causes a great amount of dopamine to collect in the brain, magnifies the chemical signal sent out by dopamine, and ultimately causes the "high" felt by a person who has just used cocaine.

This diagram shows what occurs in the brain when a person has cocaine in their system. The drug attaches to the transporter protein which normally would recycle the dopamine back into the transmitting neuron. This causes dopamine to accumulate in the synapse, giving the person a feeling of euphoria. (Cocaine in the Brain. 2016. NIDA, n.p.)

Although doing drugs and spending hours on a tablet seem like two very different practices, they are essentially the same since they produce the same feeling of euphoria. Kyung-Seu Cho, a researcher at the Department of Early Childhood Education in Eulji University, South Korea described the lack of using a smartphone leads to “withdrawal symptoms that are equal to those of drug or alcohol addiction” (Cho). If children addicted to smartphones or tablets are unable to use these devices, they can have feelings of anxiety and nervousness, two symptoms of drug addicts going through withdrawal (Cho). To take a case in point, children's overuse smartphones and tablets leads is similar to a drug addiction since dopamine is accumulating in their brains and they experience the same withdrawal symptoms.

Children receive this high from dopamine when they play on tablets and smartphones, which could potentially contribute to their development of ADHD, a disorder which amplifies the chances of becoming addicted to technology. In children with ADHD, the dopamine levels in the brain are much lower than normal. Therefore, when children with ADHD use a smartphone or tablet, the dopamine “high” they feel is amplified because only small amounts of the chemical exist in their brains.

This PET scan on left shows the brain of a person without ADHD, while the scan on the right depicts the brain of someone with ADHD. The greater amount of yellow, orange, and red in the left scan indicates a higher amount of dopamine. (Control Subject versus ADHD Subject PET Scan. 2016. NIDA, n.p.)

Just as important, this technological addiction not only leads to the onset of ADHD, but also other mental and behavioral issues including depression, anxiety, and aggression (Cho). Equally as important, we must briefly address how this technological addiction affects children socially. At Boston University School of Medicine, Jenny Radesky, a clinical researcher in developmental and behavioral pediatrics, advises that parents reinforce interaction with their children (Walters). Radesky suggests parents designate an hour of time without devices to promote human to human interaction. As a result, children will gain necessary social skills simply by interacting with their family.

Incidentally, we will note, technology is not completely detrimental to a child’s cognitive development. Although children’s use of technology to entertain themselves can lead to ADHD and addiction, using tablets to learn can positively impact their mental development. In a study by Harvard researcher Maya Lopuch, elementary students who used iPads in the classroom for three months scored nine percentile points higher on a Common Core assessment (Lopuch). This indicates that tablets can positively promote cognitive development. Outside of the classroom, children benefit from educational apps to learn, according to Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Dr. Christakis indicates that these apps, such as Disney Story Central, can be beneficial to the cognitive development of children if they are becoming engaged. Jill Burban, dean of the School of Education at Post University in Waterbury, Connecticut believes young children should spend thirty minutes or less using educational apps. Therefore, promoting learning through educational apps available on devices can benefit the cognitive development of children as long as they are used in moderation.

Here are three possible solutions.
Solution 1: The idea of moderation is the key to preventing child addiction to technology, and the key to achieving moderation is parents. Moderation of a child’s use of technology is completely up to the parents because they give their children access to devices. Since the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children spend no more than two hours using devices like smartphones or tablets, parents should set this as the time limit for their children.
Solution 2: Another solution for parents involves their own device use habits because the smartphone and tablet habits of parents influence the behaviors of their children. Consider a mom who is constantly on her iPhone checking Facebook, texting, or reading the news, for example. Her child witnesses this behavior, and because parents are highly influential models for their children, the kid thinks constantly being on a smartphone is the norm. Part of the solution to prevent addiction in children is for parents to set a better example, meaning they should spend less time on their phones and tablets while around their children. According to Cho’s study at Eulji University, “the greater the degree to which parents are self-evaluative of their smartphone usage, the lower is the influence of children's smartphone addiction proneness on their problematic behaviors.” In other words, it has been proven that if parents spend less time on their smartphones, their children will be less likely to develop addictions to smartphones and tablets since they witness less smartphone usage.
Solution 3: In addition to changing their personal usage habits, parents should stop using smartphones and tablets as rewards or punishments for their kids. According to a recent study, over half of parents use these technologies to award or punish their children (Lyndsey). Telling your son Tommy he can use the iPad if he’s quiet for the next ten minutes will actually increase his chance of developing an addiction to the device (Kim). Therefore, parents should find other ways to reward (or punish) their children, such as giving them their favorite snack or simply telling them they are proud of them.
Solution 4: Parents should stop using devices as means to distract their children. Consider two parents attempting to calm down their child who is having a tantrum by giving him or her a device, for example. This causes the child to expect to receive the device whenever they are agitated or angry. Just how parents using technology for rewards or punishments leads to a child’s addiction, so does parents using devices as distractions. In addition, parents should find other ways to distract their children who are angry, bored, or simply misbehaving, such as giving them a toy or book.

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