Screen Dependency Disorder Is Real, and It Damages Your Child’s Brain

The digital era has made our life drastically more convenient and easy, but it has also brought numerous negative consequences.

If you look around you at any given time, you will notice numerous people, especially children, staring in their digital devices and their big screens. A lot of parents use smartphone and tablets as the best way to solve the issues with boredom and temper tantrums in their kids.

Yet, “screen time” has been found to lead to various mental health and behavioral problems in young kids.

Studies have shown that video games and smartphone apps lead to addictive behavior, mostly due to extensive exposure to (unregulated) screen time.

The brains of children are still not developed, so they are prone to changes in structure and connectivity which can stunt neural development and cause a screen dependency disorder, such as:

  • Internet addiction disorders
  • Internet gaming disorder
  • Facebook addiction
  • Video game addiction
  • Pathological technology use
  • Online game addiction
  • Mobile phone dependence
  • Problematic internet use
  • Compulsive internet use
  • Pathological video game use
  • Social network site addiction

The research paper by psychologist Dr. Aric Sigman, published in the Journal of the International Child Neurology Association, defines addiction is a term increasingly used to describe the growing number of children engaging in various screen activities in a dependent, problematic manner.

The following symptoms show that the screen time of your child compromises its ability to function:

  • Preoccupation
  • Loss of outside interests
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Increasing tolerance
  • Lying about the extent of use
  • Failure to reduce or stop screen activities
  • Continuation despite negative consequences
  • Use to escape adverse moods

A 2015 study published in Behavioral Sciences (Basel) showed that 12 percent of young American adolescent gamers are “pathological video-gamers.”

Psychotherapist Dr. George Lynn maintains that 80 percent of his patients’ issues are caused by excessive gaming, watching too many online videos, or excessively using social media.

He also adds that most doctors, family doctors, even psychiatric practitioners do not see the obvious truth that the personality issues of a kid might be due to only getting two to three hours of sleep at night.

Family Life and Child Development specialist and Early Childhood Education consultant, Claudette Avelino-Tandoc, explains that a child’s screen dependency disorder might cause symptoms such as weight gain or loss, loneliness, insomnia, back pain, vision problems, headaches, anxiety, dishonesty, and feelings of guilt.

Yet, the long-term effects include brain damage and scientists have found that screen dependency disorder makes the brains shrink or lose tissue in the frontal lobe, striatum, and insula, and these areas govern planning and organization skills, suppression of socially unacceptable impulses, and our capacity to develop compassion and empathy.

If the child seems to exhibit the symptoms mentioned above, Avelino-Tandoc advises parents to seek the help of a development pediatrician to have their child appropriately diagnosed.

She adds that they should also be alarmed when regular family routine or tasks cannot be performed by the child anymore because he or she cannot be ‘taken out’ from screen time.

Parents or caregivers should explain the doctor their child’s behavior as they have observed at home, and he may also have his own set of tests and questions for both, the parents and their child.

She explains that gadgets and devices are not bad, as they can be powerful tools for learning, communication, and entertainment, but balance in the use is the key.

Parents should manage the balanced use of technology at home. Apart from using gadgets, parents should find a way to stimulate their kids to develop physically, improve their language and socio-emotional skills, as well as do hands-on learning.

Students should be encouraged to draw, color, and scribble using real materials instead of their tablets and smartphones. In case they are fond of building structures, parents should find appropriate material they can manipulate and pile, and replace their devices with blocks and boxes.

Yet, the most important thing is to encourage children to interact with peers face-to-face and play outdoors with friends.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ new recommendations for children’s media use and Dr. Lynn’s methods are as follows:

  • For children younger than 18 months, avoid the use of screen media other than video-chatting.
  • Limit screen use to an hour daily of high-quality programs for children ages 2 to 5 years. Also, parents should be with their children to help them understand what they are seeing
  • In the case of children ages 6 and older, the time should be limited, and parents should ensure the media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity, and other important behaviors
  • Make sure you emphasize the importance of online citizenship and safety, as well as treating others with respect online and offline.
  • Designate media-free times together, like dinner or driving, and media-free locations at home, for example, the bedrooms.