Technology is a part of everyday life. Our kids are constantly using tablets, smartphones and video games. But, like most parents or grandparents, you probably wonder, am I exposing them too much?
A leading national expert tells her personal story that will have you think twice about your teen.
"My oldest started getting into video games around Middle School, and he started quitting everything he did like all of his sports and hobbies," says Melanie Hempe.
She wishes she would have noticed the red flags, but her son was getting straight A's, so gaming wasn't affecting him, right?
At the end of his freshman year of college, his gaming was an addiction.
"So, when I went to go pick him up, he said, 'Mom, I haven't finished my classes. World of Warcraft really did something to me. I've been in bed for a week, I'm very depressed.'"
This former nurse blamed herself, but knew she needed to take her experience and help other families.
She started Families Managing Media, traveling all across the country, enlisting doctors, neuroscientists and pediatricians to be her experts on how technology and screen time is changing our kid's brain.
When it comes to teens, the frontal cortex is still developing. That's where your reasoning, executive function and functioning control is located. It's not ready for the constant stimulation of a screen.
Melanie also has a simple explanation for another danger. She says think of your child's brain like a tree. When they are spending their time on a screen and not playing sports or a musical instrument, those skills die, and get pruned away. That includes basic communication skills -- like looking someone in the eye.
"Just like a foreign language. If you learn a foreign language when you're little, it sticks. You could learn it later, but it's a lot harder to learn later."
Staring at a screen also releases cortisol in their brains, their heart rate goes up and so does adrenaline. Serotonin and sleep hormones go down.
Here are the red flags:
- If it's the only thing that puts your child in a good mood.
- When they get unhappy, or even violent when they are forced to unplug.
- When the promise of screen time, video games or the iPad is the only thing that motivates them.
- When the child is sneaking around to get screen time.
- When general anxiety is increasing.