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Friday, May 12, 2017

Digital Addiction (Part 1) By Trisha Roberts

Digital Addiction is becoming very prevalent

What is Digital Addiction?  Why are we seeing more and more problems of this type? Should we be concerned?  What can we do to reduce the risks?

Digital addiction is the preoccupation with and compulsive participation in online activities that can include issues with video games, smart phones, and social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Snap Chat, Instagram, Imgur, Reddit, etc.

Addiction to technology is a real threat to this century

There are many parallels between excessive digital-age technology use and the “classic” addiction to drugs, gambling, and alcohol.   Studies indicate that people with these types of addictions experience increased levels of “feel good” chemicals in the brain. (The four main chemicals being serotonin, endorphin, oxytocin, and dopamine).  As these chemicals are released, there is a “high” or feeling of euphoria and a desire to repeat the experience.  In a true addiction, the brain becomes dependent on these artificially boosted levels to maintain normal function.  Similar brain changes have been observed in Internet addicts, leading to increased dopamine in the brain and boosted blood flow to reward and pleasure centers in the brain. The hyper-arousing technology raises the level of dopamine leading some experts to call screens “digital heroin” or “electronic cocaine”.

Behaviors that are typical with Digital Addiction include:

  • Preoccupation with being online or playing a video game. 
  • Compulsion to engage in the activity.
  • Inability to curb or control the action. 
  • Poor attention span when children aren’t receiving the high-level stimulation provided by devices.
  • Frequent hiding or lying about the amount of time spent in the digital activity.
  • Agitation or anxiety when not engaging in the behavior.
  • Psychotic-like stupor exhibited during activity.

Children can experience a psychotic-like stupor during screen time

  • Loss of touch with reality when gaming—living in a digital “fantasy world”
  • Boredom, apathy, depression, or lack of interest when not “connected” to the screen.
  • Interference with day-to-day life.
  • Losing interest in sports, reading, hobbies, etc.
  • Aggressive behaviors when devices are removed from use.

Screens are ubiquitous! They are an integral part of our 21st Century and digital use is on the increase, as is Digital Addiction.

Children are exposed to digital technology in school and at home

Quoting from the article, “Digital Addiction:  This is Your Brain Online” posted by on September 26, 2015:

An American study focusing on gaming addiction found that among kids between the ages of 8 and 18, around 8 percent could be classified as addicted. Other research from the U.S. and Europe has suggested that rates of Internet addiction range from 1.5 to 8.2 percent (although estimates vary due to unclear definitions). In some parts of Asia, the rate may be as high as 26 percent, and China has identified Internet addiction as one of its main public health risks.

Many parents think that they are doing their children a great service by getting a “jump start” on technology for their children by starting them early on electronic devices. Schools are starting children in younger grades on technology--from computer screens to tablets. There seems to be an epidemic of this type of addiction be it to video games, the Internet, smart phones, or social media. Many children are playing with tablets before they are talking!  

Infants and toddlers are exposed to digital technology

Watch a group of teenagers or even younger children--very rarely are they talking together or playing a game.  More often they can be found clumped together, each one attached to an electronic device! Children are getting less and less exercise and are developing 'over-use' injuries to fingers, hands, and wrists.

Social skills don't develop when kids are addicted to digital devices

 “According to a 2013 Policy Statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics, 8- to 10 year olds spend 8 hours a day with various digital media while teenagers spend 11 hours in front of screens. One in three kids are using tablets or smartphones before they can talk. Meanwhile, the handbook of “Internet Addiction” by Dr. Kimberly Young states that 18 percent of college-age internet users in the U.S. suffer from tech addiction.”

This is HUGE!  And it is a problem that is not going away soon!

We will continue next week with Digital Addiction Part 2 and discuss how parents, teachers, and care providers can intervene to decrease the use of addicting technology.

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