What Every Katy Parent Should Know About This Fast Growing Addiction and the Changes Forming in Your Child's Brain.
KATY MAGAZINE l MARCH 2019
By April Carroll
Candy Crush, Snap Chat, Instagram, Fortnight, and YouTube--just a few of the digital distractions impacting Katy Kids. And digital addiction is not just for older kids, a study by Psychology Today shows kids ages 2-5 are spending 32 hours a week watching TV, videos, or playing games. Kids ages 8-12 are spending six hours a day with a screen, and teenagers are spending a nine hours a day on a digital device, aside from school work. In many Katy families, those numbers are actually much higher.
While no age group is immune from developing an addiction to their devices, in children it is particularly dangerous because of their young age and the brain changes that happen when they are on their devices.
"A compulsive need to use your digital devices, to the extent where it interferes with your life and stops you from doing things you need to do. "
How Much is Too Much?
Although there are too many factors to consider when determining how much is too much screen time, any amount that interferes with basic needs, like getting enough sleep, could indicate an addiction. Wireless technology safety website, Wireless Education, defines digital addiction as “a compulsive need to use your digital devices, to the extent where it interferes with your life and stops you from doing things you need to do."
If kids are skipping homework assignments, forgetting to do chores, abandoning other activities, in place of gaming and screen time, this is definitely problematic.
Don't Ignore Warning Signs
It's easy for busy Katy parents to look the other way and ignore key warning signs, but here are some questions you should be asking yourself, according to Psychology Today.
It is hard for my child to stop using screen media?
When my child has had a bad day, does screen time seem to be the only thing that helps him/her feel better?
Does my child’s screen media use causes problems for the family?
Does the amount of time my child wants to use screen media keep increasing?
Does my child sneak and using screen media?
Other signs like isolating, not being able to stop when asked, or dropping friends and activities for their game or device are also warning signs. Parents who see any of these signs are advised to take action and set stricter limits on your child's usage.
In parents' defense, not everything online is mind-numbing and our kids can actually learn amazing things by watching educational shows or playing age-appropriate, developmental games. What if they’re reading? Certainly there’s no harm in that, right? Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter what your child is doing, that phone or tablet can be causing harm. Experts say screen time can cause a release of dopamine, which is the chemical that makes us feel good.
Dopamine is Released
Just like with any drug that causes a dopamine release, our brains develop an immunity to lower doses and requires an increasing amount of screen time to get “high”. Neurology experts warn excessive screen time also causes shrinking in the brain’s grey matter. The frontal lobe is effected, causing trouble with decision making and self control, but even more concerning is the effects on a part of the brain called the insula, which is what triggers compassion and empathy. Because of of these brain changes, and the fact that kids are getting most of their social interaction through sites like Instagram and Snapchat, we see a decline in the ability to hold face-to-face conversations. Text messages are sent with abbreviations and acronyms instead of full words, which effects communication skills in real life situations.
Katy Parents are Setting Boundaries
Katy mom, Kathy Smith, didn't allow her son to watch or use technology for the first two years of his life. Once he started, he became more grumpy and less inclined to engage in imaginative play. She again removed electronic devices and noticed a huge improvement in his attitude and behavior. "He played longer with legos independently, was interested in helping me cook and do laundry," Kathy said. "Even when the iPad was available, he would chose to play with toys instead." As her son has gotten older, she has allowed more screen time, but takes precautions to assure electronics don't become a problem. "When we go to restaurants, we take a notebook and things to color or draw with and we engage him. We play tic tac toe, draw silly pictures, or practice writing letters."
Many parents have strict rules and limits on digital use in their home, and for good reason. Katy mom, Melissa, says, "Our daughters are limited on screen time. They are not allowed to use them until they are done with their homework." Even after homework is done, permission has to be given to use digital devices. Melissa acknowledges that it does get difficult sometimes, especially when the girls need to use a device for a school assignment. She notices that when more screen time is allowed, there is much less family time and conversations aren't as meaningful.
Problems in the Classroom
Moms and dads aren’t the only ones noticing an increase in digital dependency and the effects of it. Digital addiction can lead to significant problems in the classroom. A study involving children, ages 4-11, who spend a lot of time in front of a screen daily, shows an increased risk of hyperactivity, social problems, and behavioral problems.
I spoke to some Katy ISD teachers who say that kids seem to be playing games on their phones all the time. Students are allowed to use devices between classes and in the cafeteria in almost all Katy schools, but a lot of children sneak them out during class to play games. One of the teachers I talked to about digital addiction has taught both special and general education classes. She has noticed a distinct difference in the behavior and grades of students who “used electronics obsessively”. In special education classes, students who had their devices taken away for irresponsible use occasionally became violent, and in all classes, students who appear to have an addiction were regularly late to class and cared less about their grades until it became a problem for extra-curricular activities or at home.
Tips for Katy Parents
Here are some ideas from ziglarfamily.com to help break the digital addiction:
SET DIGITAL BOUNDARIES
Set boundaries for when your child can use his or her electronic devices. For example, you might schedule use for only certain times of day, or you could reward your teen with a certain amount of time on his phone once he’s completed a homework assignment or finished a chore.
REMOVE SOCIAL MEDIA
Remove social media altogether from your child’s phone so he or she can only check Facebook, Twitter and the like from a shared family computer in an open area. Besides being addicting, social media accounts put children at risk for being approached or groomed by predators or others who want to do them harm. If nothing else, make sure all of their social media accounts are accessible by you.
LIMIT PHONE CHECKS
Help your child ease off by limiting her checks to once every 15 minutes, even to the point of setting a timer, if necessary. Then increase to 30 minutes and even 60 minutes in time.
Talk to your child about "fear of missing out" and that it's okay to miss out on ongoing conversations, breaking news, the latest game, or new gossip. Remind them that what they see of others on social media is rarely an accurate reflection of their lives – people exaggerate the positive aspects of their lives, brushing over the doubts and disappointments that we all experience.
FIND HEALTHY REPLACEMENTS
Encourage your child to replace the time spent on electronic devices with healthier activities. Have some suggestions for other ways to fill the time such as reading a book, cooking, walking the dog, or chatting with friends face-to-face. If a child is bored and lonely, it's very tempting to constantly reach for their phones and devices.
Monkey See Monkey Do
Obviously, kids can’t take all the blame here. Parents are also spending a lot of time with their phones and tablets too. Rewire.org reports that in a 2017 study, 36% of the children surveyed asked their parents to put down their phones and didn’t get a positive response from mom and/or dad. We have to lead by example and put away our phones and give them the time and attention they need to thrive.
Resources used for this story
What are your tips to managing your kids digital time? Email us Editor@KatyMagazine.com
BACK TO KATY MAGAZINE STORIES