Too much “screen time” at computers, cellphones, games and TV is making it hard for children to concentrate on their studies, says psychologist Nicholas Kardaras, Ph.D.
Kardaras has won a carload of screen time himself in recent days in publicizing his book, Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids—and How to Break the Trance.
He has appeared on Fox & Friends, ABC-TV, CNN sister channel HLN, Katie Couric’s Yahoo! show and more than 30 radio programs with his pleas to curb the almost insatiable appetite children have for what falls under the general heading of “screen time.”
The basic message of Kardaras, who we covered during an 1:45 hour presentation at the John Jermain Sag Harbor Library Sept. 8, is that electronics spur the “pleasure circuits” in brains, doubling the amount of dopamine while shrinking the amount of gray matter in the frontal cortex, the decision-making center of the brain. Neurological development and verbal intelligence are delayed.
Screen Addiction Like Food, Sex
Food and sex have the same effect, he notes. Children who are under constant stimulation from screens can lose their innate sense of curiosity, he says.
About 20 local residents attended, peppering him with questions such as what constitutes “screen addiction?” He had no firm answer, saying it could be a few hours for some children and but many more for others. A boy of about 10 told at length of his love of screen games but complained that he can’t free himself from some of them because the “pause button” does not work.
“There is not one credible research study that shows that a child exposed to more technology earlier in life has better educational outcomes than a tech-free kid,” Kardaras writes. “Screens are dulling rather than sharpening young developing brains…Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) rates have exploded by 50% over the past ten years with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating rates will continue to rise by 5% per year.”
Tech execs put their own children in “no-tech Waldorf Schools,” he notes.
Kardaras: Reduce Screen Time
Radiation health advocates, who have been warning about cancer and other diseases caused by cellphones, Wi-Fi routers, computers, celltowers, etc., will not like the thrust of what Kardaras is saying—that cutting down on screen time should be at the top of the “to do” list at this time.
“Cancer development, particularly brain cancer, takes a long time to develop,” is a quote he supplies from Dr. Henry Lai, bioengineering professor, University of Washington, who has studied radiation for more than 30 years.
Also quoted is Dr. Keith Black, chairman of neurology, Cedars-/Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles. “The biggest problem we have is that we know most environmental factors take several decades of exposure before we really see the consequences.”
Dr. Samuel Ryu, chair of the Dept. of Radiation Oncology, Stony Brook Medicine, told the Aug. 11, 2016 Southampton Press that the strength of radiation emitted by Wi-Fi routers in the Westhampton Library is far too weak to alter human DNA. Wi-Fi uses radio waves and it takes light rays like those from an X-ray machine to alter DNA, he said.
The American Cancer Society says the chance that a person will develop a malignant tumor of the brain or spinal cord in his or her lifetime is less than 1% (about 1 in 140 for a man and 1 in 180 for a woman). Survival rates for brain and spinal cord tumors vary widely, depending on the type of tumor, it says.
Radiation health advocates, by focusing on physiological changes possibly caused by radiation, including the threat of cancer, in an attempt to arouse concern among the public and school authorities, are getting almost no traction. The public and institutions are also listening to authorities like Drs. Lai, Black and Ryu and sees cries of “wolf” when there are no wolves on the horizon. They note the Federal Communications Commission is saying that Wi-Fi and other sources of electro-magnetic radiation are too weak to cause harm since they don’t heat bodily tissues.
Some Are Hypersensitive
A small percentage of individuals have become hypersensitive to radiation emitted by routers, computers, cell towers, wireless utility meters and other sources. Health advocates say 3% is an accepted figure for the minimum number of those acutely affected and who know it. Another 10% may be affected but don’t know it. “Some sensitivity” affects 30%, they say. Acute cases cannot even go into buildings with routers and some of have moved to the country. Some sleep in tents in the woods.
Acute cases include 15-year-old Jenny Fry, who committed suicide, perhaps by accident, in a move to call attention to her hypersensitivity, and Stephanie Dickerson, whose life has been made miserable by hypersensitivity.
“Unplugging” Needed Now
“National Unplugging Day,” a project of Jewish non-profit Reboot, will be Friday, March 3, 2017. It is an adaption of the ritual of carving out one day per week to unwind, unplug, relax, reflect, get outdoors, and connect with loved ones. This is a step in the right direction but it should be changed to “Unplugging Days.” Citizens themselves can participate in such a movement. By the time the federal and local governments, companies, schools, libraries, National PTA, etc., take action on screen addiction, Hell will have frozen over. Tech companies are raking in large sums and school authorities have mostly been co-opted by them, Kardaras notes.
Unplugging Day, says the site, “affirms the value of Jewish traditions and creates new ways for people to make them their own.” Patrick Ainslie is director of operations and Laura Freschi is director of partnerships.
Governments, Schools, Libraries Resist
While media are paying increasing attention to the dangers of excessive “screen time,” local governments, schools and libraries are still showing resistance to exploring the topic.
Kardaras, a graduate of Cornell University and Stony Brook University, who lives with his wife and twin sons in Sag Harbor, will speak at the Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton Sept. 22. The best the Westhampton Library can do for him is set an appearance “sometime in March 2017” in connection with Unplugging Day. That is about six months away.
Children on Screens 8-11 Hours a Day
The American Academy of Pediatrics says 8-10 year-olds are spending eight hours a day with various digital media while teenagers spend 11 hours in front of screens.
The excessive amount of time children spend on their screens is making them “wired, tired, aggressive and even psychotic—battling an addiction harder to kick than drugs,” Kardaras says. iPads, smart phones and Xboxes are a form of “digital drug” that affects the brain’s frontal cortex, which controls executive functioning including impulse control.”
The handbook of Internet Addiction by Dr. Kimberly Young says 18% of college-age internet users in the U.S. suffer from “tech addiction.”
Kardaras urges parents to demand that schools not be allowed to give their children tablets or Chromebooks until they are at least ten years old. Others, he says, say 12 is a better age for use of such products. “Give your children Lego instead of Minecraft, books instead of iPads, and nature and sports instead of TV,” he advises.
An attempt by this writer to tell the five WHB trustees about the message of Kardaras at their meeting Sept. 1 won no traction. They listened politely and watched as I held up the two-page Kardaras feature in the NY Post, and ordered me from the mike after five minutes. A videotape of the meeting is on WHB’s website. This writer was allowed to speak from the 19-minute mark to 24 minutes.