Are Kids Becoming "Screen Addicts"?

By McCarton Ackerman 05/22/12

By age seven, an average child born today will spend a whole year watching screens, warns a scientist.

Very young kids should have no screen time.
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Young kids can be addicts, too, says Dr. Aric Sigman, a clinical biologist and psychologist who presented his research today at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health conference in Scotland: screen addicts. He claims that children are at risk of forming addictions to screen devices like smartphones, games consoles and televisions in a manner similar to drug and alcohol abuse. His research shows that production of dopamine—the brain's pleasure chemical, which is heavily associated with addiction—rises rapidly in children when they play computer games or watch music videos. "Previously a child would put £1 in a machine at an arcade and the experience would be over in 10 minutes, but now we are talking about hours of this experience every day," says Sigman. "We don't think of experience as something linked to dependence, we only think of a substance. Increasing daily dopamine release in reaction to hours of computer games and other screen media is becoming a real possibility with important potential consequences." He believe that these consequences could include long-term changes to the brain. Sigman's research found that the average 10 and 11-year-old spends 6.1 hours per day looking at screen devices and has access to an average of five screens at home. By the age of seven, an average child born today will have spent the equivalent of one full year watching screen media 24-hours a day. And while the US and Australian authorities have recommended no screen time for children under the age of two, Sigman thinks this age limit should be pushed up to three, and argues for a two-hour daily screen limit for anyone under the age of 18.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.