Philadelphia Product Liability Lawyers: Are Kids and Teens Hooked on Technology? April 6, 2017
Children and adolescents across the country have video game systems, iPads, cell phones, tablets…the list goes on and on. We live in a culture where technology is everywhere and starting early in life. The question is that regardless of numerous benefits, is technology addictive? And if it is, can it damage the development of children or affect a person’s moods, actions and behaviors?
There are horror stories that revolve around technology, especially video games. In one case, a mother binge played World of Warcraft, a popular video game, for so long that she allowed her young child to die of starvation. In another, a teen shot his mother and father when they took away his video game. The teen’s lawyer asserted that he had become addicted to it.
Is it possible for video games and other forms of technology to be addictive? Interestingly, Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) has been put forth for consideration as a disorder to make its way into the DSM, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But as of now, IGD is not considered an official disorder in the United States. In other countries around the world, however, treatment centers for people who are afflicted with video game and digital media addiction have been established.
Because it is a hot topic, a large amount of research has been done on the effects of digital media. Research shows that nearly 2% of all ninth-graders and .5% of all people who play video games show the associated symptoms of excessive video game use. Excessive video game use can lead to higher acceptance of violence, lower social skills, impulsiveness and difficulty coping with life in general. People who suffer from excessive video game use are at a greater risk for other disorders including depression, anxiety and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Researchers have found other risk factors for addictive behavior with digital media. Among these are people who are looking for an escape from life’s problems or are prone to “shutting out” the world. For kids and teens in particular, some of the risks include a lack of parental support, class truancy, repeating a grade, poor grades, school phobia, lack of successful life experiences, high video game use by parents, divorce/separation of parents and reported behavioral problems at school.
Numerous international studies have been conducted, and the results tend to lie along the same line. More often than not, reduced social skills, a history of impulsive behavior and a longer amount of time spent gaming seem to all contribute to the development of gaming addiction within a two-year period. Statistics also reflect that boys are at higher risk than girls, and tend to average a higher amount of average daily game playtime. Other data shows that as time goes on, if the behaviors remain the same then the chances of developing a problem continue to increase.
Recent brain imaging studies have shown shocking results: that the area of the brain that controls impulses and executive functioning is affected in the exact same way by video games and other forms of technology as it is by drugs, such as cocaine. Renowned neurosurgeons and addiction researchers internationally go as far as to refer to technology as “digital heroin” or “electronic cocaine”.
This research is concerning, especially when we consider that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) estimates that children between the ages of 8 and 10 spend up to 8 hours a day with digital media. For adolescents, this number rises to 11 hours daily. The AAP cites that over one-third of children are playing with or using smart phones in some manner before they speak.
Although Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) is still up to be decided as an official disorder, it seems as though current research and opinion is pointing towards its eventual inclusion in the DSM. If IGD were to be considered a disorder, just like with drug or alcohol addiction, children and teens that suffered from excessive video game or digital media use would need to go through a “detoxification” period. But, a preventative measure against a child or teenager becoming too deeply involved with various forms of digital media is to limit their use of televisions, video games, cell phones and other forms of technology.
The AAP launched new “screen time” regulations just last year. For children under the age of 18 months, the recommendation is to disallow any type of digital media with the exclusion of limited video chatting with friends or family members in other areas. For children between 18 and 24 months of age, parents or caregivers should choose educational or “high quality” programming and watch and explain it to their children. For 2 to 5-year-olds, the AAP encourages no more than 1 hour a day of high quality programming, such as PBS. Lastly, for kids over the age of 6, the association stresses the importance of consistent time limits on digital media exposure. The AAP reminds families that digital media should never come in the way of healthy sleeping and eating patterns and physical activity.
The AAP is quick to remind parents and caregivers that unplugged playtime is extremely important for children and teens, and should be a priority over screen-time. It is especially important for older children and teens to balance digital media with other healthy hobbies and behaviors, so that they do not fall into a digital wormhole.
Technology truly is everywhere and is impossible to completely avoid. And, it is not necessary to forbid any or all use of video games and other forms of digital media, it is just best to limit screen-time. Because so many of the risk factors for overuse seem to revolve around limited social skills, dissatisfaction with life and/or anxiety, a meaningful solution may be to teach children stronger coping mechanisms, social skills and stress management. However, if you are concerned about your child or teen’s mental or emotional health, you should contact a mental health professional right away.
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