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"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." - Nelson Mandela

Electronic Screen Media Creating Mental Health Problems for Kids

By Carole Hornsby Haynes, Ph.D. June 17, 2018 

Research shows the use of electronic screen media is having biological and psychological health effects on children including reduced intelligence, increased ADHD, autism, anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, and cancer. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Communications and Media points out that children are experiencing unprecedented screen violence not just on television, but also on computers, video games and touch-screen devices. They note that such exposure has been clearly linked to aggressive behavior, aggressive thoughts, aggressive feelings and physiological arousal. 

According to Dr. Victoria Duncley, from 1994 to 2013 there has been a 40-fold increase in pediatric bipolar disorder and, from 1980 to 2007, an 800 percent increase in the diagnosis of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). 

Duncley, author and adolescent psychiatrist, blames many of the symptoms of mental health problems on the effects of electronic screen media. She believes the root cause is the over stimulation by technology, which causes repeated stress on the nervous system. She labels this “electronic screen syndrome” because it can mimic a psychiatric disorder or exacerbate an underlying disorder. 

Dr. Dimitri Christakis, director of the University of Washington’s Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development in Seattle, says, “The reality is that we’re seeing ten times more ADHD than we were seeing twenty years ago,” He believes it's the pacing of the program, whether video games or TV, that is contributing to attention problems.

A 2010 study by Iowa State University found that television viewing and video game playing can lead to increase attention problems in childhood. Six to 12-year-olds who spent more than two hours each day playing video games or watching TV were nearly twice as likely to have above average attention deficit problems. 

Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention reports that 2016 statistics indicate approximately six million children, ages 2-17, have been diagnosed with ADHD. Nearly two out of three children have at least one other mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder. 

A 2017 study by the American Psychological Association reported that 97% of teens play video games. 

In a 2018 report, the Pew Institute points out that, through smartphones, 90% of teens now access the internet several times each day. The number of students who report using the internet almost constantly has grown from 24% in the 2014-2015 survey to 45% in 2018. Another 44% report accessing the internet several times daily. 

International expert in the psychology of technology and author of iDisorder, Dr. Larry Rosen explains that daily use of media and technology results in stress, sleeplessness, and a compulsive need to check in with all of our technology. Utilizing decades of research, he concludes the brain's ability to process information and relate to the world is interrupted by the daily use of technology. 

In his book, iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind, Dr. Gary Small, one of America’s leading neuroscientists, suggests that the internet is radically altering the way young minds are developing and functioning. He warns that the potential dangers include ADD, social isolation, and internet addiction. 

Dr. Elizabeth Hartney in her recent article reports that people who are addicted to video games have poorer mental health and cognitive functioning including ADHD symptoms, increased emotional difficulties, and are more likely to be engaged in internet pornography.

Teenagers spend an average of nine hours per day using media while tweens spend an average of six hours. 97% of teens play video games and 98% of teen videos contain violent content. 

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, along with the MacArthur Foundation, has poured millions into GlassLabs, a tech company that does research on video games for the classroom. The company's website claims their products will “dramatically improve student learning.” 

One of the most popular video games in the nation is Microsoft's Minecraft, which is used in thousands of classrooms. 

According to Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, one of the nation's foremost addiction experts, Minecraft is in “every way -- clinically and neurologically -- an addicting drug.” The most habit-forming and addicting reward schedule, the variable ratio reward schedule found in casino slot machines, is used in Minecraft.

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