Summer is a time when lots of parents worry about their kid's brains.
After a year of school work, it’s more than possible they’re spending a lot of time -- too much time -- with their nose buried in their phone.
When I grew up, we got our screen time going to the arcade. Now, some research suggests, kids get close to 7 hours of screen time a day.
So, can they get addicted to screens?
To find out, I reviewed some widely cited research and interviewed Dr. Jacque Gamino. She’s a cognitive neuroscientist at the Center for Brain Health. I also played Pac-Man with 13-year-old Cole Richter, who I've known since he was 3.
“How many hours a day do you think you're using screens?” I asked Cole.
“Probably 2 hours,” Cole said.
“Which means, maybe 4,” I said.
“Maybe 4, probably,” he said.
“You definitely get sucked in and you don't realize what's going on around you,” Cole added.
So, can a kid get addicted? That’s what I asked Dr. Gamino.
“You can be addicted to it. And that's what's important to know. That it is like any other addiction. It's going to be hard to break, especially if it starts in adolescence, because of that brain development,” she said.
Let’s check out a paper called "Decreased Functional Brain Connectivity in Adolescents with Internet Addiction."
It found adolescent internet addicts had "significant decrease of functional connectivity" in the brains.
In the report is an image of a brain, full of little red dots. On a normal brain, all the red dots would have purple connections running between – showing connectivity between parts of the brain. An addicted brain is missing those interactions.
“An addiction to gaming or the internet could have deleterious effects on the brain,” Gamino said.
Dr. Gamino gave Cole and me an internet addiction test. We both passed.
She says 6-8 hours a day of screen time is likely borderline addictive. So, how serious is that addiction?
“Are you more concerned about a 13-year-old developing an addiction to alcohol? Or the internet?” I asked Dr. Gamino.
“I would say, probably both,” she said.
“Equal?” I asked.
“I think they are pretty close to being equal. Alcohol will destroy the brain and the internet can destroy the brain, with too much use, as well,” she said.
Bottom line, kids can get addicted to screens. Experts say there are ways to wean a child off the internet or even go cold turkey. The brain, given a chance, will heal.
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