Glow kids warn­ing

Screens 'as ad­dic­tive as co­caine'for chil­dren

Sunday Star-Times - - FRONT PAGE -

Chil­dren who spend too much time on their dig­i­tal de­vices are at risk of de­vel­op­ing neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­ders, a high school is warn­ing par­ents.

While many schools em­brace learn­ing through lap­tops and tablets, Palmer­ston North Boys’ High School staff penned a let­ter to par­ents cit­ing warn­ings from Amer­i­can psy­chol­o­gist Nicholas Kar­daras.

‘‘Ex­po­sure to tech­nol­ogy is es­sen­tial for our young men,’’ the school said in the let­ter.

‘‘How­ever, it is es­sen­tial the man­ner in which they are ex­posed to this tech­nol­ogy is con­trolled and mon­i­tored so that the ben­e­fits are not di­min­ished by the proven neg­a­tives.’’

‘‘There is an in­creas­ing amount of clin­i­cal re­search cor­re­lat­ing screen time with dis­or­ders such as ADHD, anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion and in­creased anx­i­ety.’’

Kar­daras coined the phrase ‘‘glow kids’’ to de­scribe the gen­er­a­tion of chil­dren and teens grow­ing up im­mersed in dig­i­tal and lit by a screen.

Com­puter games and web­sites are de­signed to be ap­peal­ing and ad­dic­tive. His find­ings, based on clin­i­cal ev­i­dence, shows this ad­dic­tion could be as harm­ful to the de­vel­op­ing brain as co­caine ad­dic­tion, but is more dif­fi­cult to cure.

Clin­i­cal child psy­chol­o­gist Kirsty Ross said she al­ways asks about chil­dren’s screen time and what they use dig­i­tal de­vices for, as mis­use can ag­gra­vate other is­sues.

‘‘What we are def­i­nitely see­ing is young peo­ple who find it very dif­fi­cult to leave their de­vices alone, and de­pend­ing on the age of the young per­son it has a range of dif­fer­ent ef­fects.

‘‘There’s re­search on the im­pact on the brain in terms of the parts tech­nol­ogy, of the brain ac­ti­vated ... dopamine means it’s a plea­sur­able ac­tiv­ity, and it’s hard to turn off vol­un­tar­ily. It needs mon­i­tor­ing, it needs lim­its, be­cause kids aren’t go­ing to self im­pose those.’’

De­vices should never be a sub­sti­tute for qual­ity time with par­ents or teach­ers, she said.

For ex­am­ple ‘‘talk­ing to them, read­ing a book to them and talk­ing about the ma­te­rial – rather than the de­vice read­ing to the chil­dren.’’

‘‘De­vices in­tro­duced at a young age and used ex­ten­sively can im­pact brain con­nec­tions and have an ex­treme im­pact.’’

Feild­ing mum of four Hilary Humphrey said par­ents had to stay on their toes de­vice use.

Her chil­dren – aged from 3 to 13 – as a rough rule of thumb are al­lowed no more than two hours us­ing dig­i­tal de­vices at home, in­clud­ing TV.

With­out su­per­vi­sion at least one of her chil­dren would choose to spend all day us­ing tech­nol­ogy, and there can be strong re­sis­tance to switch­ing de­vices off.

‘‘We want to sup­port their en­gage­ment and com­pe­tency with tech­nol­ogy, but also to make sure they are do­ing all the other child things like go­ing down to the pool with their friends, learn­ing how to cook.’’

Auck­land dig­i­tal teach­ing spe­cial­ist Da­mon Kahi is less wor­ried about the length of time to mon­i­tor dig­i­tal spent on de­vices, com­pared to the ed­u­ca­tion and en­ter­tain­ment bal­ance, in re­la­tion to ad­dic­tion.

At the Mind Lab at Unitec he trains teach­ers to in­te­grate tech­nol­ogy into their prac­tice, and said his ex­pe­ri­ence was that teach­ers and even very young chil­dren were more in­clined to see dig­i­tal de­vices as tools for re­search and cre­at­ing as part of a wider process, rather than en­ter­tain­ment.

Ev­ery gen­er­a­tion has rev­o­lu­tion­ary new de­vices that are matched with a knee-jerk re­ac­tion, he said.

‘‘We have to face re­al­ity, in many houses there’s two or three com­put­ers and kids are im­mersed in that from an early age.’’

Prob­lems arise where they are used as a ‘‘babysit­ting ser­vice’’, he said.

WARWICK SMITH/STUFF

The Humphrey chil­dren, from left, Eliana, 5, Taine, 11 and Ciara, 12, are gen­er­ally al­lowed two hours a day on their de­vices.

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