National | Early Childhood Development

Screens are 'digital cocaine' to children - Dr Nicholas Kardaras

Excessive technology use has a cocaine-like effect on children. This from international addiction expert Dr Nicholas Kardaras who has researched the science of screen addiction.

Electronic devices are a normal part of 65% of New Zealand children's daily lives. Addiction psychiatrist Dr Nicholas Kardarashas done extensive research on the effects of technology overstimulation in children.

"Kids that are on screen at too young of an age, it compromises their ability to have attention spans, they become dependent on very stimulating experiences to be able to focus, unfortunately, attention is a developmental window.  If a child loses the opportunity to develop their ability to focus in the ages of 2 and 6, if they've been hyper-stimulated between 2 and 6, clinical research says that they're going to be lifelong attentionally challenged."

Dr Kardaras says most parents aren't aware of the health risks associated with technology overuse. He says symptoms of screen addiction present similarly to those of a drug addiction.

"Brain imaging research over the last 5 to 6 years shows that it actually shrinks the frontal cortex, the frontal lobes of our brain which is called executive functioning. It controls everything from our decision making to our impulse control, aggressive behaviour and the MRI research shows that a person on the screen for more than 10 hours a week, their brain looks exactly the same as a cocaine addict."

Kids and teens aged 8 to 18 spend an average of seven-and-a-half hours a day engaging with media. Dr Kardaras says the simultaneous rise of social media and youth mental health issues is no coincidence.

"One study showed that if somebody is on screens, social media or video games for more than 5 hours a day, they're 70% more likely to have suicidal thoughts."

Dr Kardaras is presenting in Auckland, Hamilton and Christchurch over the coming days, educating teachers and parents on how to break screen addiction and the science behind it.