对技术持最谨慎态度的父母往往是技术设计师和工程师，这其中是有原因的。史蒂夫·乔布斯是位有名的提倡低技术的家长。硅谷高科技公司的高管和工程师们会把孩子送入没有高科技的华德福学校，Google的创办人Sergey Brin和Larry Page，以及amazon创始人Jeff Bezos和Wikipedia创始人Jimmy Wales，则把孩子送入没有科技的蒙特梭利学校。
这令人上瘾的效果就是加州大学洛杉矶分校神经科学主任Peter Whybrow博士把电子屏幕称为“电子可卡因”的原因，中国的研究人员则称为“数字海洛因”。事实上，为五角大楼和美国海军研究成瘾问题的负责人Andrew Doan博士一直在研究“视频游戏成瘾”，他把视频游戏和电子屏幕技术称为“数字巫术”（希腊语pharmakeia）。
Nicholas Kardaras博士是国家顶级康复中心DunesEast Hampton的执行主任，前Stony Brook Medicine的临床教授。他的著作“发光的孩子：屏幕成瘾如何劫持了我们的孩子-以及如何打破恍惚症”（St. Martin’s）现已出版发行。
It’s ‘digital heroin’: Howscreens turn kids into psychotic junkies
Susan bought her 6-year-old son John aniPad when he was in first grade. “I thought, ‘Why not let him get a jump onthings?’ ” she told me during a therapy session. John’s school had begun usingthe devices with younger and younger grades — and his technology teacher hadraved about their educational benefits — so Susan wanted to do what was bestfor her sandy-haired boy who loved reading and playing baseball.
She started letting John play differenteducational games on his iPad. Eventually, he discovered Minecraft, which thetechnology teacher assured her was “just like electronic Lego.” Remembering howmuch fun she had as a child building and playing with the interlocking plasticblocks, Susan let her son Minecraft his afternoons away.
At first, Susan was quite pleased. Johnseemed engaged in creative play as he explored the cube-world of the game. Shedid notice that the game wasn’t quite like the Legos that she remembered —after all, she didn’t have to kill animals and find rare minerals to surviveand get to the next level with her beloved old game. But John did seem toreally like playing and the school even had a Minecraft club, so how bad couldit be?
Still, Susan couldn’t deny she was seeingchanges in John. He started getting more and more focused on his game andlosing interest in baseball and reading while refusing to do his chores. Somemornings he would wake up and tell her that he could see the cube shapes in hisdreams.
Although that concerned her, she thoughther son might just be exhibiting an active imagination. As his behaviorcontinued to deteriorate, she tried to take the game away but John threw tempertantrums. His outbursts were so severe that she gave in, still rationalizing toherself over and over again that “it’s educational.”
Then, one night, she realized thatsomething was seriously wrong.
“I walked into his roomto check on him. He was supposed to be sleeping — and I was just sofrightened…”
She found him sitting up in his bed staringwide-eyed, his bloodshot eyes looking into the distance as his glowing iPad laynext to him. He seemed to be in a trance. Beside herself with panic, Susan hadto shake the boy repeatedly to snap him out of it. Distraught, she could notunderstand how her once-healthy and happy little boy had become so addicted tothe game that he wound up in a catatonic stupor.
There’s a reason that the mosttech-cautious parents are tech designers and engineers. Steve Jobs was anotoriously low-tech parent. Silicon Valley tech executives and engineersenroll their kids in no-tech Waldorf Schools. Google founders Sergey Brin andLarry Page went tono-tech Montessori Schools, as did Amazon creator Jeff Bezosand Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.
Many parents intuitively understand thatubiquitous glowing screens are having a negative effect on kids. We see theaggressive temper tantrums when the devices are taken away and the wanderingattention spans when children are not perpetually stimulated by theirhyper-arousing devices. Worse, we see children who become bored, apathetic,uninteresting and uninterested when not plugged in.
But it’s even worse than we think.
We now know that those iPads, smartphonesand Xboxes are a form of digital drug. Recent brain imaging research is showingthat they affect the brain’s frontal cortex — which controls executivefunctioning, including impulse control — in exactly the same way that cocainedoes. Technology is so hyper-arousing that it raises dopamine levels — thefeel-good neurotransmitter most involved in the addiction dynamic — as much assex.
This addictive effect is why Dr. PeterWhybrow, director of neuroscience at UCLA, calls screens “electronic cocaine”and Chinese researchers call them “digital heroin.” In fact, Dr. Andrew Doan,the head of addiction research for the Pentagon and the US Navy — who has beenresearching video game addiction — calls video games and screen technologies“digital pharmakeia” (Greek for drug).
That’s right — your kid’s brain onMinecraft looks like a brain on drugs. No wonder we have a hard time peelingkids from their screens and find our little ones agitated when their screentime is interrupted. In addition, hundreds of clinical studies show thatscreens increase depression, anxiety and aggression and can even lead topsychotic-like features where the video gamer loses touch with reality.
In my clinical work with over 1,000 teensover the past 15 years, I have found the old axiom of “An ounce of preventionis worth a pound of cure” to be especially true when it comes to techaddiction. Once a kid has crossed the line into true tech addiction, treatmentcan be very difficult. Indeed, I have found it easier to treat heroin andcrystal meth addicts than lost-in-the-matrix video gamers or Facebook-dependentsocial media addicts.
According to a 2013 Policy Statement by theAmerican Academy of Pediatrics, 8- to 10 year-olds spend 8 hours a day withvarious digital media while teenagers spend 11 hours in front of screens. Onein three kids are using tablets or smartphones before they can talk. Meanwhile,the handbook of “Internet Addiction” by Dr. Kimberly Young states that 18percent of college-age internet users in the US suffer from tech addiction.
Once a person crosses over the line intofull-blown addiction — drug, digital or otherwise — they need to detox beforeany other kind of therapy can have any chance of being effective. With tech,that means a full digital detox — no computers, no smartphones, no tablets. Theextreme digital detox even eliminates television. The prescribed amount of timeis four to six weeks; that’s the amount of time that is usually required for ahyper-aroused nervous system to reset itself. But that’s no easy task in ourcurrent tech-filled society where screens are ubiquitous. A person can livewithout drugs or alcohol; with tech addiction, digital temptations areeverywhere.
So how do we keep our children fromcrossing this line? It’s not easy.
The key is to prevent your 4-, 5- or8-year-old from getting hooked on screens to begin with. That means Legoinstead of Minecraft; books instead of iPads; nature and sports instead of TV.If you have to, demand that your child’s school not give them a tablet orChromebook until they are at least 10 years old (others recommend 12).
Have honest discussions with your childabout why you are limiting their screen access. Eat dinner with your childrenwithout any electronic devices at the table — just as Steve Jobs used to havetech-free dinners with his kids. Don’t fall victim to “Distracted ParentSyndrome” — as we know from Social Learning Theory, “Monkey see, monkey do.”
When I speak to my 9-year-old twin boys, Ihave honest conversations with them about why we don’t want them having tabletsor playing video games. I explain to them that some kids like playing withtheir devices so much, they have a hard time stopping or controlling how muchthey play. I’ve helped them to understand that if they get caught up withscreens and Minecraft like some of their friends have, other parts of theirlives may suffer: They may not want to play baseball as much; not read books asoften; be less interested in science and nature projects; become moredisconnected from their real-world friends. Amazingly, they don’t need muchconvincing as they’ve seen first-hand the changes that some of their littlefriends have undergone as a result of their excessive screen time.
Developmental psychologists understand thatchildren’s healthy development involves social interaction, creativeimaginative play and an engagement with the real, natural world. Unfortunately,the immersive and addictive world of screens dampens and stunts thosedevelopmental processes.
We also know that kids are more prone toaddictive escape if they feel alone, alienated, purposeless and bored. Thus thesolution is often to help kids to connect to meaningful real-life experiencesand flesh-and-blood relationships. The engaged child tethered to creativeactivities and connected to his or her family is less likely to escape into thedigital fantasy world. Yet even if a child has the best and most lovingsupport, he or she could fall into the Matrix once they engage with hypnoticscreens and experience their addicting effect. After all, about one in 10people are predisposed towards addictive tendencies.
In the end, my client Susan removed John’stablet, but recovery was an uphill battle with many bumps and setbacks alongthe way.
Four years later, after much support andreinforcement, John is doing much better today. He has learned to use a desktopcomputer in a healthier way, and has gotten some sense of balance back in hislife: He’s playing on a baseball team and has several close friends in hismiddle school. But his mother is still vigilant and remains a positive andproactive force with his tech usage because, as with any addiction, relapse cansneak up in moments of weakness. Making sure that he has healthy outlets, nocomputer in his bedroom and a nightly tech-free dinner at the dinner table areall part of the solution.
*Patients’ names have been changed.
Dr. Nicholas Kardaras is executive directorof The Dunes East Hampton, one of the country’s top rehabs and a formerclinical professor at Stony Brook Medicine. His book “Glow Kids: How ScreenAddiction Is Hijacking Our Kids — and How to Break the Trance” (St. Martin’s)is out now.