Dr. Tracy Bennett
Dr. Tracy Bennett
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Yes, screen addiction is officially a thing. As a mom and clinical psychologist for over 25 years, I recognized and identified it in 2014 from treating hundreds of families in my private practice office. Teaching addiction studies at CSUCI also highlighted the similarities between drugs and screen behaviors for me. Like everybody else, I too was having a hard time chasing my kids off their screens. Honestly, even I was getting lost in my research and on Facebook. I started to worry for my family. From there, I committed to doing the deep research and founded GetKidsInternetSafe. I wrote my book, gave many keynotes and presentations, talked to customers, built and tested my online courses, and created a long-standing weekly blog. And, after all that, the World Health Organization finally confirmed what I’ve been screaming from the rooftops. Big tech creates screen products that assault the pleasure centers of our brains, and we are, in fact, clinically addicted.

My GKIS mission is to help families prevent digital injury rather than just treat it after the damage has been done. My GKIS products offer best practices plus creative, real-world secrets from my practice with the most challenging kids. My free Connected Family Screen Agreement gets you started by establishing a fun, cooperative parent-child relationship. From there,  implement filtering and monitoring at the device-level with my GKIS Digital Toolkit. Best of all, my Connected Family Course offers fun and creative ideas to set up your home for safety and parent the way you want to, reasonable, loving, and light-hearted. I’ve even made myself available for coaching if you get stuck.

Because I’ve been a tireless advocate for families for almost 30 years, I’m offering my family-tested and outcome-based tools for less than you’d spend for one session in my office! Ten sessions with a psychologist at $150 an hour or $99 for my online course. I’ve removed every obstacle for you to get started. Not sure if you need to yet? Learn about screen addiction in today’s GKIS article. It may teach you some things about screen use that you didn’t know to look for.

In July, 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) finally classified gaming addiction as a mental health disorder. In the last twenty years, the tech revolution has affected every aspect of our lives. Not you? How many phone numbers do you know by heart? Studies have shown that, for some subjects, compulsive screen use impacts the reward and pleasure areas of the brain in the same ways that alcohol, drugs, and other behavioral addictions do. Screen addiction treatment centers have been popping up in Asia for the last decade and are starting to in the United States as well. Do you worry your child may be showing signs of screen addiction?

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“Remember, when Betty Ford first admitted she was an alcoholic, we didn’t have people believing it was actually a problem until she came around and talked about her own problems with it. This is a place for people to go for help, and that we hope will help everyone around them stop taking Internet addiction so lightly.”

Kimberly Young (founder of The Center for Internet Addiction in 1995)

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According to Apple, we check our iPhones an average of 80 times a day, 30,000 times a year. Nearly 60% of parents think their teens are addicted to their mobile devices. Articles complain about millennial and iGen fondness for tech and the declining work ethic.

Who is to blame?

Parents: Of course, we have some accountability for what happens under our roofs. Pester power breaks us down, and we allow too much screen use even though we know better. We need a break in our overtasked, screen-saturated lives. We can’t entertain our rugrats 24-7.

Kids: They are so persistent! They CRAVE screen use and are master manipulators. Children are vulnerable to screen addiction, because their brains are not fully developed, particularly in the prefrontalcortex, which is responsible for impulse control and decision making. Children who suffer from trauma like bullying, divorce, and abuse, as well as from psychological vulnerabilities like ADHD, anxiety and mood disorders, and autism are particularly vulnerable.

Schools: Schools are increasingly adopting curriculums that require screen use and Internet access during classroom and homework time. Without digital literacy, our kids academically falter.

Silicon Valley Tech & Marketers: Screens are programmed to addict us. Big tech, like Google, Amazon, and Facebook, are experts in how to keep us coming back for more. Using secret computer algorithms, our online behavior is studied, collected, and aggregated. This data is used to create and deliver content in the ways our brains will effortlessly absorb. That translates to targeted ads for clicks and money leaving our bank accounts. Big profit indeed.

The Gaming Industry: Multi-level, high sensory games, like Fortnite, are intentionally programmed for addictive use. Players are rewarded for staying on and punished for getting off. This keeps kids on-screen, vulnerable to hours of authonomic overarousal. That means they burn too much brain fuel and are left fatigued and in mental brown-out.

The government: Where is the regulation to protect kids? Are civil liberties really that strong that legislators can’t step in to help parents? Or is it that research and treatment organizations can’t compete with rich lobbyists who get direct access to our legislators? It’s both. Did you know that the advertising budget for Budweiser alone exceeds the entire budget for research on alcoholism and all drugs of addiction?

What does addiction look like?

  • Preoccupation:Do you spend a lot of time thinking about games even when you are not playing, or planning when you can play next?
  • Withdrawal: Do you feel restless, moody, irritable, angry, anxious, or sad when attempting to cut down or stop gaming, or when you’re unable to play?
  • Tolerance: Do you feel the need to play for increasing amounts of time, play more exciting games, or use more powerful equipment to get the same amount of excitement you used to get?
  • Reduce/stop: Do you feel that you should play less, but are unable to cut back on the amount of time you spend playing games?
  • Give up other activities: Do you lose interest in or reduce participation in other recreational activities (hobbies, meeting with friends) due to gaming?
  • Continue despite problems: Do you continue games even though you are aware of negative consequences, such as not getting enough sleep, being late to school/work, spending too much money, having arguments with others, or neglecting important duties.
  • Deceive/cover up: Do you lie to family, friends, or others about how much you game, or try to keep your family or friends from knowing how much you game?
  • Escape adverse moods: Do you game to escape from or forget about personal problems, or to relieve uncomfortable feelings such as guilt, anxiety, helplessness, or depression?
  • Risk/lose relationships/opportunities: Do you risk or lose significant relationships, or job, educational, or career opportunities because of gaming?

Patterns of behavior must be severe enough to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other areas of functioning and persist for several months.

How common is Internet Gaming Addiction?

Recent studies claim that around 1 – 5% of the US population could be classified as Internet game addicted. It is most common among single young males. Male Internet addiction most typically involves video gaming, cyber-pornography, and online gambling.Women are more likely to show addictive use patterns with social media, texting, and online shopping. IGD commonly cooccurs with depression, anxiety, AD/HD, self-harm, obsessive-compulsive disorder, oppositionality, suicidality, and personality disorders.

Other risk factors include living in a metropolitan area, not living with biological parent, low parent involvement, parent unemployment, and not having a reliable friend. Consequences of IGD include pathological behaviors like skipping school, lower grades, family conflicts, lack of offline sociality, sleep problems, and unresolved developmental problems. These factors, along with escalating emotional problems, often result in a deprivation of the very resources necessary to break out of this vicious cycle.

What do the brain studies say?

Neuroimaging studies are increasingly finding evidence of distinct neurobiological changes similar to those seen in subjects with substance addictions. In other words, the more we play video games, the more our brains adapt.

Activation pattern changes that result in brain tissue changes is called adaptive neuroplasticity. More specifically, subjects with video game addiction show a reduction in gray and white brain matter and reduced cortical thickness in various areas of the brain. The longer the duration of playing, the more significant the brain structure change Studies have also found evidence of dopamine release and higher activity in the brain’s pleasure center when playing video games. Heavy gamers have significantly more difficulty regulating emotion and making sound decisions than nongamers.

Thank you to CSUCI Intern, Katherine Bryan for contributing this article. Screen addiction is real and being universally recognized.

If you worry you are seeing red flags in your home, remembere that screen addiction is preventable! Avoid digital injury and costly therapy and detox treatments, starting with our GKIS Digital Toolkit. Designed to help you effectively filter and monitor addicting content from the device, this course is the bridge between building family connection (with our free Connected Family Screen Agreement) and putting the fun back into parenting (with our GKIS Connected Family Online Course).

I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.

Onward to More Awesome Parenting,

Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty
GetKidsInternetSafe.com

Photo Credits

Everyone is really looking for the Z-generation’s grace Digital HungaryCC 2.o

It’s been such a long day Pat Charles CC 2.0

Gaming in the dark Jochem HerremansCC 2.0

Xbox ChapendraCC 2.0

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