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Save our children from technology addiction
Do you remember the 1980s anti-narcotics campaign by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (PDFA), “This is your brain on drugs”? A simple yet effective advertisement suggesting that a scrambled egg in a frying pan is similar to the effect of drugs on the brain. Modern-day science is now proving that improper technology use has the same effect on the developing brain of our children. The brain scans shown below compare the brain of a drug addict and a technology addict. Both show considerable modification and reduction of the dopamine receptor (indicated by the red colour).
What is dopamine? According to medical doctor Ananya Mandal, “dopamine is the chemical that mediates pleasure in the brain. It is released during pleasurable situations and stimulates one to seek out the pleasurable activity or occupation.” What does dopamine have to do with technology addiction? Recent research confirms that spending more than eight hours a day using various types of technology significantly modifies our brain’s dopamine receptors compared to that of an addiction-less brain. Every time you get a notification of a message or pass a level in a mobile app game your brain releases a small amount of dopamine making the experience pleasurable and desirable. Consistent and more regular releases create a compulsion loop similar to that which is associated with nicotine, cocaine, and other substance addictions.
Behavioural addictions, like technology addiction, are not considered to be as serious as substance addictions. These addictions are often overlooked and treated as an acceptable addiction. While most substance abuse that leads to substance addiction begins in the adolescent years of development, we see technology addiction being nurtured at much earlier ages. Have you ever seen a parent attempting to take away a cellphone from their two-year-old child? That irrational outburst, in most cases, is from a technology addiction fuelled from as early as six months old. The outburst can be attributed to a condition known as “NoMo Phobia.”
NoMo Phobia is an abbreviation for “No Mobile Phone Phobia.” It is considered to be an anxiety disorder caused by the fear of being separated from one’s mobile phone. The initial study on the topic conducted in 2010 revealed that over 58 per cent of mobile users in Britain get anxious when they “lose their mobile phone, run out of battery or credit, or have no network coverage.” The earlier children are introduced to mobile technology the more their brain will be structurally modified and potentially trigger a lifelong addiction. Author and TED speaker Simon Sinek advocates, like all other addictions technology addiction will cost you your relationships, time, and money. By the time our kids are teenagers many of them are suffering from severe cases of NoMo Phobia.
Coupe NoMo Phobia with the physical and chemical changes experienced during adolescent development and possible substance abuse and we have a combination that can no longer be considered acceptable, a recipe for disaster. News headlines like, ‘Student chops off mom’s hand’ because ‘she took away my cell phone,’ are evidence of the extreme possible end result of this very serious addiction plaguing our society, locally and globally. Socially accepted addictions like mobile addition are rarely discussed. Parents and caregivers often encourage their children to spend countless hours online on their mobile phones, apps, and social media. Similar restrictions to those enforced for alcohol and cigarettes should also be implemented to restrict mobile phone use among underage children.
What can we do to save our children and by extension our future? There is no escaping, technology is here to stay. It is a great power that we utilize to optimize our daily functions. However, with great power comes great responsibility. Dr Lisa Strohman (one of the foremost experts on the global issue of technology addiction and overuse) recommends empowering children with knowledge and then trusting them with the information to make better decisions. In one of her research she proved that escalating discipline related technology incident problems reduced by over 50 per cent utilizing this proactive approach.
All children want to make good choices if given the opportunity but we have to educate them on how to do this. Awareness and education are the most important approaches to combat the negative aspects of technology addiction. We therefore call on all parents, schools, and authorities to join together and save our children from technology addiction before it is too late. Business and media houses should also be invited to get involved as part of their corporate social responsibility through sponsorship and building public awareness.
Pt Shiva J Maharaj
MA B Ed: Certified Common Sense Educator and CyberSAFE Trainer
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