Reduce Digital Media Addiction with Pet Therapy

Written by Dr. Andrew Doan & Brooke Strickland on .

A furry puppy or a soft kitten: can pet therapy help combat the modern day effects of technology addiction? The tech culture has completely permeated how we live life today and it’s integrated in how our children learn and process information. Our kids are being exposed to technology at young ages and if overused, their concentration, memory, and thought processing can be negatively affected. For some kids, they exhibit signs of addiction and withdrawal, cannot interact well socially with their peers, and they can even show signs of being numb to what’s going on around them. 

Clinically, we are seeing children that develop an emotional “amblyopia”. In visual neuroscience, when an eye does not send visual signals to the brain, the brain centers for vision connected to the eye actually shut down and atrophy by a certain age. For vision, the process for visual amblyopia starts at birth and becomes nearly irreparable by age 8 to 10. Based on a 2010 Kaiser Foundation study, kids are using digital media for entertainment on the average of 7 hours 38 minutes daily! The content being fed into the minds of our children matter. If they are consuming 7 hours 38 minutes daily of junk, this will result in loss of higher executive functions in the frontal lobe. Similar to what we see in visual amblyopia, clinicians and therapists who work with digital media addicted kids are seeing symptoms similar to an emotional “amblyopia”.  

In short, our kids have trained their brains to be in front of a screen for hours at a time. 

Technology is amazing and technology innovation has helped kids learn things in ways no one could have imagined years ago. But setting strong guidelines and boundaries with healthy, realistic limits on how they use technology is key. And another great way to combat the need to be in front of a screen is to explore science outside and surround yourself (and your children) with animals. Studies have shown that being around animals can help lower blood pressure, reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, and can provide companionship that will fight loneliness or isolation. New studies conducted at the Institute for Human-Animal Connection are looking at how the health of people is connected to animals and the environment and how health and educational professionals can help share the benefits of connecting with nature, rather than a screen. 

The results: healthier relationships, solid social interaction between kids of various ages, and more rapport amongst people. So, next time your kids try to grab the iPad or turn on the video game after school, encourage them to head outside instead to stay active and engaged. For more information:

1. Elvove, Erica. “Pets and Tech: How Animals Can Increase Children’s Joy and Help Reduce Tech-Addiction and Increase Joy.” Children & Nature Network. October 12, 2016. Accessed online October 19, 2016.