Harmful Screen Addiction


Unless you never go out, you will definitely have seen young children and even babies with a new style pacifier. 

That's right, our personal devices are playing and insidious role in the lives of our children. Well-intentioned but perhaps unaware or uninformed parents are using sophisticated electronic tools to pacify, distract, or simply amuse their children. 

Activities such as watching TV, playing computer games, watching, listening (and learning) on apps, phones and tablets is known as screen time. We all do it, however research shows that screen addiction is harmful for all ages, but especially for the very young.


If you are a parent or an educator I urge you to read the following extract by Dr Nicholas Kardaras, an addiction expert, who says that our devices are like digital drugs - with very similar effects on the frontal cortex to that seen in drug addiction.

“Mind numbing, repetitive, sedating games like Candy Crush and Mine Craft (sold as digital Lego but its not) have no educational value, what they are is  a type of hypnotic sedation that paradoxically sedates and stimulates at the same time. The children look sedated which is why when a child is engaged at the screen parents love them as the digital babysitter. However while kids look sedated, they are actually getting hyper-stimulated, which is why when you take away the screen (the toxin) you see exactly the same reaction as is seen in rehab when you take a way the drug from a drug addict: explosiveness, anger, violence and aggression.” 

These toxic effects of screen addition, says Kardaras “Are nonreversible and currently untreatable due to the ubiquitousness of technology in our daily lives.”


This is such an important topic, that I make no apologies for promoting the new book by Dr Kardaras. Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids – And How to Break The Trance. In it, Kardaras features both exploration and advocacy, and has found that glowing screens are as dopamine-activating as sex, and as potentially damaging to a child’s developing brain as cocaine is to adults. 


The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics state infants aged 0-2 years should not have any exposure to technology, 3-5 years be restricted to one hour per day, and 6-18 years restricted to 2 hours per day. Children and youth use 4-5 times the recommended amount of technology, with serious and often life threatening consequences.

The pervasiveness of screens in the lives of young people was the focus of  'The Common Sense Census' (Common Sense Media, 2015), which was a representative survey of American tweens (8- to 12-year-olds) and teens (13- to 18-year-olds). The survey documented that outside of school and homework, tweens spend almost six hours per day (5:55 hrs.) and teens spend almost nine hours per day (8:56 hrs.) using media, including watching TV, playing video games, using social media, using the Internet, reading, and listening to music.

Interpreting time spent with media poses a challenge - some would point to the sheer number of hours as evidence of an addiction, although just counting time disregards the many different activities that can be done on the Internet. Even if children aren’t actually addicted, how should we understand unhealthy engagement with media? 

Parents and other concerned adults increasingly wonder: What are the human costs of this “always connected” lifestyle? - Especially for our children. 


Almost every parent stresses about how many hours their kids log on their tablet, smartphone or TV each day. But according to a 2017 study in todaysparent.com, the amount of time a kid spends on a screen isn’t actually as important as how dependent the kid is on the screen. 

Researchers have developed a tool to measure screen addiction in kids ages four to 11. Here are the red flags to watch for that suggest your kid might have a screen addiction:

RED FLAG Your child can’t control their screen use

The researchers call this “unsuccessful control,” when kids have trouble stopping using devices. If you’ve tried to impose limits on screen time, but your kid just couldn’t deal, this could be an issue.

RED FLAG Loss of interest in other activities

If “tablet time” is the only thing that motivates your child (books, toys and sports don’t get them nearly as excited), they might be too invested in screen use.

RED FLAG It preoccupies their thoughts

If, even when your kid isn’t playing video games, he’s talking about Fortnite Battle Royale, wondering what his favourite YouTuber will post next, this could be a sign of addiction. 

RED FLAG It interferes with socializing

Is your child bringing a phone to the dinner table? Sneaking peeks at his tablet while his grandmother tries to make conversation? When screens interfere with family activities, they could be problematic.

RED FLAG Screen use causes serious family problems

Have you had any blowout arguments incited by screen use? Or behaviours problems related to something they’re watching? This could be a sign of an unhealthy relationship with screens.

RED FLAG Your kid shows signs of withdrawal

When it’s time to turn off the TV for bedtime or put mobile devices away for screen-free family time and your kid gets frustrated, they may actually be experiencing withdrawal.

RED FLAG Their tolerance is increasing

If your child used to watch 30 minutes of YouTube after school each day but now she’s even watching it on a phone on the way home from school, her tolerance is on the rise.

RED FLAG They’re deceptive about it

If your kiddo is sneaking a tablet into bed at night or lying about how long they’ve been playing a video game, this is a red flag.

RED FLAG A screen is their mood booster

If your child comes home after a bad day at school and needs a TV show or game to make him feel better or offer an escape, researchers say it could be a sign of screen addiction.

The study doesn’t specify how many of these warning signs your kid has to exhibit to have an addiction - or what to do if they do, in fact, appear to have an addiction. But if your kid checks off more than a few of these boxes, then it might be time to re-evaluate how screens are being used at home and to make an effort to wean your little ones off of screens before the dependency does damage.


Call me old fashioned but I was shocked when the man I was sitting beside at an education conference announced that he had just succeeded in getting first round investment in a startup producing a learning app for 3-5 year olds. “Don’t kids of that age learn through play,” I suggested. “This is play” he retorted!


This is pure seduction – ED Tech is a $60 billion industry and while we are the willing participants, parents in Silicon Valley don’t let their kids use tech and are opting to send their kids to schools with tech free classrooms. This approach stems from parents seeing firsthand, either through their job, or simply by living in the Bay Area - a region home to the most valuable tech companies on Earth - how much time and effort goes into making digital technology irresistible.

The Waldorf School of the Peninsula is small, exclusive and packed with the children of Silicon Valley executives who love the role that technology plays in the pupils’ education there. That is NONE, technology plays no role whatsoever. Instead children at the $25,000-a-year elementary school in Los Altos, California, are learning to explore the world through physical experiences and tasks that are designed to nurture their imagination, problem-solving ability and collaborative skills.

Pencils, paper, blackboards and craft materials abound while tablets, smartphones and other personal electronic devices are banned from the classrooms until they are teenagers studying at the middle and high school campus nearby. Even then technology is only introduced slowly and used sparingly.


Boys in their first year at Eton College have been ordered to hand over their mobile phones at night because of concerns about the pressures of social media. Simon Henderson, the headmaster at the boys’ boarding school, said the policy had also been introduced to reduce the amount of screen time pupils are exposed to and improve their sleep. The policy has been a success and the college – which has educated the sons of the rich and powerful including 19 British prime ministers – is considering extending it to older boys.




Schools are the digital drug dealer to some degree. They’ve given parents the narrative that screens are educational and their use in the classroom leads to better student outcomes. It’s a false narrative! There’s been no research that shows that a kid with a tablet in school does better educationally than a kid without. 

There’s no research that shows that, and yet we’ve adopted the company line: the more tech in schools, the better. Research shows the opposite! Kids in screen-free classrooms tend to do better, have better test scores and the students become better learners. Education per-se, is at its best at its stripped down finest - a good teacher in front of the classroom and engaging students is the most effective way to engage the mind of a child. In contrast, students with devices are susceptible to multiple distractions and may not be fully present in the classroom, thereby allowing those distraction to interfere with the teacher-student exchange.



So too has it become the soothing rationale of many parents, who - in order to rely on a digital babysitter - have convinced themselves that screens are educational, but all that screen time does real life harm. Let’s not fall into the trap in the first place. Instead, set screen-time limits and help your kids moderate their own habits, it’s all about finding the right balance for your family's needs and lifestyle.

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