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How Screen Addiction is Stealing Your Kid’s Future

The Top 5 Things You Can Do to Stop It

The Oompa Loompas Predict the Future

It rots the senses in the head!
It kills imagination dead!
It clogs and clutters up the mind!
It makes a child so dumb and blind!

His brain becomes as soft as cheese!
His mental powers rust and sneeze!
He cannot think — he only sees!

— Roald Dahl’s poem, sung by the Oompa-Loompas in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Mike Teavee, the boy obsessed with watching TV.

The Inconvenient Truth

I have two kids in high school sports this year. My son runs cross country and my daughter is on the tennis team. In rare moments when the tournaments aren’t nail-biters (it ain’t the Olympics,) I’ve had a chance to ask other parents how they manage screens in their home.

95% of the time, the conversation starts like this…

Q: “Do you let your teenager sleep with his/her phone?”
A: “Yes, because it’s his/her alarm clock.”
Q: “You know you can buy one on Amazon for $5?”
A: “Yes, but he/she doesn’t use the phone it at night.”
Q: “How do know?”
A: “We talked about it and I trust him/her.”

I’m sure your child is lovely, trustworthy and kind, but they are using the phone at night, I’m sure of it.

As the conversation continues, we uncover the truth — they have no idea whether their kid is using screens at night. Not because they are bad parents or the kid isn’t trustworthy, but because it’s the status quo. Who wants another reason to fight with a teenager?

2017 marks the 10 year anniversary of the iPhone, the last time most parents spoke to their children.
— Peter Segal, host of NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

Luckily, during the last 10 years, neuroscience has rapidly evolved as well, providing data about how the influx of technology affects our behavior.

The real reasons many parents allow their teen to sleep with their phones are multiplying daily. The solutions are not easy, clear or downloadable.

Study after study has proven that the mere presence of the phone in a teenager’s bedroom interferes with sleep, and robbing them of important brain development. If you’re a teen parent, I think you’ll agree, those kids need all the rational brain cells they can get.

Addictions expert Dr. Nicholas Kardaras explores a growing mountain of clinical research about this new addiction crisis in his book Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids-and How to Break the Trance.

If you’re wondering whether it’s worth the mental anguish to tighten the rules around screens, here are some insights from the book.

Screens are a kind of digital cocaine, hijacking the reward pathways of the brain just like other addictive substances.

Excessive screen time and mental disorders go hand-in-hand — period. Particularly, ADHD, aggression, depression, and anxiety.

Vulnerable, adolescent brains are more sensitive to screen addiction and the neural pathways formed in adolescence can be permanent, or very hard to rewire.

High school is not all rainbows and butterflies. Social, emotional and political upheaval is hard for anyone, but especially adolescents. Predictably, unhappy children find solace in the fantasy world of computers.

Top 5 Things You Can Do

  1. Be knowledgeable.
    Learn more about the risks and rewards of technology and social media on the developing brain. Explain what you find out to your children. They won’t care now, but at least you tried.
  2. Set screen limits at home.
    Get the phone out of the bedroom and require they sign a Responsible Screen Contract. (See link below for a template you can use.)
  3. Model balanced technology use.
    Whether said or not, teens can sniff out a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude in seconds and will simply tune you out.
  4. Stay involved in school.
    Be active in observing and/or limiting computer exposure in school classrooms. Remember, schools too are influenced by the technology companies profiting from the digital revolution. You CAN ask for a technology-free environment.
  5. Get help if you’re worried.
    Use professional help when signs of an addiction appear.

And if all else fails, stop paying for their phone and cut off the Wifi. That won’t solve the problem, but it will get them to look up.

Marissa Verson Harrison is the co-founder of​ ScreenAge BootCamp, an online training platform for modern families. We help parents, and the teens they love, balance media use and learn new skills for the knowledge economy. Sign up here to find out more!

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