Is your kid an iPad junkie?

Written by Dr. Andrew Doan & Brooke Strickland on .

Every morning, on my way out the door I drive by a bus stop that usually has a few teens standing there. There is one boy in particular that walks to the bus stop with his head down, his eyes glued to the screen in front of him, unaware that there are cars backing out of driveways. He is at the bus stop and usually sits by himself, glazing over at the screen. Kids today are born into this world of technology and they grow up using it. Even babies and toddlers grow up immersed in televisions, computers, smart phones, and more. A study published in 2014 reported that almost half of parents in North West area of the United Kingdom believe that their kids are addicted to digital devices.  Approximately 44% are hooked to their screens, with tablets being the top technology for children (39% of children have their own iPad).  More than a third (38%) of North West kids also own a mobile phone, while nearly a quarter (24%) have already got Facebook. Most of the kids in the study that were the most crazed about technology were between 8 and 10 years old. (1)

An author that recently published an article on iPad junkies, talks about his own screen overuse and how his son became addicted to his iPad at only 8 years old. He describes an intervention that he and his wife had to do with his son to take the iPad away and the child acted out, showing signs of what a drug addict goes through when the drug supply is cut off. He talks in very real detail about the struggle that his son faced when the device was taken away and his eyes were opened to how powerful the addiction really was. He shunned friends, cut himself off from family, said hateful things to his parents, began dressing in all black, and expressed that his “dragons” in his game were going to die if they weren’t checked on. (2)

Not surprisingly, this scenario of screen-addicted children is becoming more common as the years go by.  Human beings practice who they want to become, and individuals must be careful what they practice and how they program their brains. When a young child spends too much time in internet gaming or internet pornography, there can be significant problems associated with excessive use. We propose an analogy to clarify how a child’s nervous system may develop when exposed to excessive time engaging in internet gaming or other internet activities. (3) Observe your left hand. The thumb will represent the cortical areas associated with all the benefits of video gaming and use of technology: quick analytical skills, improved hand-eye-coordination, and perhaps improved reflexes. The index finger will represent the cortical areas associated with communication skills. The middle finger will represent behaviors associated with social bonding with family and friends. The ring finger will represent the capacity to recognize emotions of both self and others (empathy). Lastly, the little finger will represent the cortical areas associated with self-control. While these higher executive functions are biologically based, they are not fully expressed without proper practice and feedback. When a child spends an average of 7h 38m in front of a digital screen for entertainment [Kaiser Foundation 2010], that child is exceeding the recommended daily dosage for healthy screen time. Folding the fingers into the palm of your hand represents this situation. As the brain matures, the possible end product is a young adult who is all thumbs in their thinking: possessing quick analytical skills and quick reflexes, but not as developed in communication skills, having few bonds with people, exhibiting little empathy, and showing minimal self-control. Therefore, technology addiction in young children may result in significant problems later as adults. Further research exploring the ramifications of excessive exposure to video games and pornography in children is warranted.

Technology is continually advancing and there are some amazing things that are being done with it. However, when the rush of the device or game becomes your driving force in your day to day life, or in the life of your child, there is a serious problem that needs to be addressed right away. So, where is the line? How can you keep your kids involved in the wonderful uses of technology but shelter them from overuse and addiction? The first use is to limit their access. We don't recommend video games or handheld devices until age 13 to allow your children's brains to mature without the hyper-arousal stimulation associated with video games and technology use. At age 13, let them play games (less than 30 minutes daily) and surf the web with adult supervision in moderation only. Turn off screens well before bed time, so their sleep patterns are not interrupted.  Most of all, establish clear boundaries right away and don’t give in. The key to your child’s success depends on technology being a tool for them, not something that masters them. 

Our recommendations for technology use in your home:


1. Arthur, Sam. “Parents believe North West toddlers and teens are hooked on tablets, phones, and games, says report.” Mancunian Matters. July 31, 2014. Accessed online August 10, 2014.

2. Reed, Jeremy. “Opinion: My Kid, the iPad Junkie.” CBS Chicago. November 5, 2015. Accessed November 13, 2015. 

3. Voss A, Cash H, Hurdiss S, Bishop F, Klam WP, Doan AP4. Case Report: Internet Gaming Disorder Associated With Pornography Use. Yale J Biol Med. 2015 Sep 3;88(3):319-24. eCollection 2015. [Full Article]