Giving Your Child a Smartphone Is “Like Giving Them Drugs,” Says Top Addiction Expert

Giving Your Child a Smartphone Is “Like Giving Them Drugs,” Says Top Addiction Expert

Fifty percent of teenagers in the world are addicted to their smartphones, and 84% of these kids have said they can’t go a day without checking their phones. [1]

Children are more malleable than adults, being at that stage of life where their brains are still rapidly developing. Bad habits can easily become characteristics at this point. Millions of people in the world today are addicted to their smartphones. If you calculate the amount of time you spend checking your favorite websites and social media accounts, you’ll have a shock attack.

Smartphone addiction is not some psychological hoax. It’s real and almost as bad as drug addiction. Although it may not have any immediate health risks (excluding eye issues from excessive screen viewing), it’s more difficult to get over because smartphones are not considered dangerous. Every drug addict out there knows they are harming their bodies and minds. Not many would have these substances in their hands or on their tables 24 hours a day. Smartphones, on the other hand, never leave our sides, and because they serve a lot of purposes in our daily activities, the side effects are usually underrated.

You’re not helping your kids with those smartphones

If adults can be seriously affected by excessive use of smartphones, it’s scary to imagine the effect they have on children. A UK based therapist has likened this distraction technique to giving your child drugs. Either way, they’ll become addicted and if you try to cut off their supply, they slip into an agitated withdrawal. Rehab clinic specialist, Mandy Saligari, came up with this theory. She explains that parents are making serious mistakes by overlooking smartphone addiction to focus solely on drugs and alcohol. Biologically, all these items work on the same brain impulses.

“I always say to people, when you’re giving your kid a tablet or a phone, you’re really giving them a bottle of wine or a gram of coke,” she said to Independent. [2] “Are you really going to leave them to knock the whole thing out on their own behind closed doors?”

Salgari runs the Harley Street Charter Clinic in London, and she said that two-thirds of her patients are youngsters between the ages of 16–20 who are being treated for excessive smartphone use. One of her surveys concluded that one-third of British children between the ages of 12 and 15 admitted that they do not have a good balance between screen time and other activities. They spend too much time on their phones to get involved in other things such as sports, music, and board games.

Why do parents give smartphones to their children?

It is usually a distraction technique, but in some cases, parents are convinced that early use of smartphones will make their children smarter. When children between ages two and five are given smartphones to control their tantrums and keep them distracted, they’ll surely get used to these devices and become dependent on them for fun. Taking away their tablets or phones can cause symptoms similar to narcotic withdrawal.

A study conducted by the San Diego State University found that smartphones affect the mental health and emotional wellbeing of children aged between two and 17. [3] They spend so much time playing games, watching videos, accessing age-inappropriate content, and texting incessantly that they become wired to living in a virtual world. Children who are addicted to digital technology usually have a hard time controlling their emotions or handling themselves in the real world.

Also, parents are part of the negative influence cycle. Children are naturally inclined to copying their parents and doing exactly what they see grown-ups do. This is why parents are advised to restrict what their children are watching on television. Using your smartphone for most of the day in front of your child would cause them to accept this habit as perfectly normal. Since their parents are doing it, it must be the right way to live life.

How is this addiction affecting your kids?

Physiologically, smartphone addiction may have some serious consequences on the brain. These symptoms may not manifest physically, but they will usually affect a person’s psychological wellbeing. A 2012 study conducted by the Chinese Academy of Sciences discovered that people who are diagnosed with Internet addiction disorder have physical abnormalities in their brains. [4] They had abnormalities in the integrity of white matter in certain regions of the brain that control decision-making, emotional control, and attention spans. This is why people who are addicted to their phones would usually perform poorly in these areas.

This addiction causes children to become anti-social. Imagine a birthday party for five-year-olds where everyone is busy playing video games on their phones. Smartphone addiction also leads to poor academic performance. Obviously, children who spend so much time on their phones will not find any time for their studies. They also perform badly at sports, theatre, and other extracurricular activities.

These children usually battle depression, frustration, exhaustion, loneliness, and in extreme cases, hallucinations. Some of the games and content they access may contain so much violence, profanity, and nudity that your kid’s young mind cannot handle. They may get violent, sick, and agitated if the devices are forcefully taken away,

Let’s not forget about their eyesight. [5] Some children use a lot of light during screen time and this can actively blur vision and cause serious headaches, and “no screen protector is going to make any real difference,” according to an ophthalmologist, Dr. Christopher Starr.

How to help your child get over this addiction

1. Go old school

Kids rarely come together on a front yard to play hide and seek, hopscotch, sing songs, or even playhouse. Everyone is busy playing Legos on their tablets instead of using physical blocks. Why play tag when there’s Temple Run? Why play chess with your classmates when you can play against the computer? Everyone has gone digital.

Slowly introduce these “old-school” game equipment in your home. Collaborate with other parents so your kids can come together to try them out. Playing cards with your kids is a great way to get them off the devices because they’d love to spend time with you. Slowly and steadily, you’ll wean them off using these devices excessively. Little children shouldn’t even be allowed smartphone use at all, although they can use children’s tablets at set times of the day.

2. Talk to them

Don’t be afraid of upsetting or terrifying them. They’ll find out one way or the other that these devices are harmful. Gently sit your child down and tell them how smartphone addiction may cause them to be unable to relate with people in real life. Encourage them to hang out with other kids and play physical games.

3. Lead by example

As the parent, you have to curtail your smartphone use as well. Your kid shouldn’t be arranging Legos or playing scrabble while you’re watching loud videos on Instagram. Try to limit your screen time because you’re not exempted from the mental harm it causes. Teach your kid by doing the same thing.

4. Screen time schedules

There should be timetables for the use of smartphones and digital gadgets in your home. Little children should be allowed access a couple of hours a day to their tablets or video games. Older kids should be allowed about three hours on their smartphones. Be the parent, get a hold of these devices, and release them only at set times.

After a while, you’ll begin to observe that your kid has fallen into a much healthier routine and can sit with a phone for five hours without touching it. Win-win for everyone.

References:

  1. Smartphone usage and increased risk of mobile phone addiction: A concurrent study.” PMC. July 2017.
  2. Giving your child a smartphone is like giving them a gram of cocaine, says top addiction expert“, Independent. June 2017.
  3. Smartphones, tablets causing mental health issues in kids as young as two“, NZ Herald. November 2018.
  4. Abnormal White Matter Integrity in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder: A Tract-Based Spatial Statistics Study“, PMC. January 2012.
  5. Too much screen time may be damaging children’s eyesight“, CBS News. December 2017.
  6. Smartphone addiction, daily interruptions and self-reported productivity“, PMC. July 2017.
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