'Glow Kids' Overview: What Every Parent Needs to Know
Updated: Jan 7
Have you ever heard of "Glow Kids"?
I'm not talking about kids who have a particularly radiant aura - I'm talking about kids who are addicted to screens. And unfortunately, it's a growing problem.
According to Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, author of Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids - and How to Break the Trance, screen addiction is a real and serious issue. In his book, Kardaras discusses the negative impacts of screens on the developing brains of children and teens. He writes, "Just as alcohol and drug addiction hijacks the brain's reward center, so too does screen technology." And it's not just screens from video games - it's all screens. Smartphones, tablets, computers - all of them.
What exactly are the dangers of screen addiction?
Well, for one thing, screens can be incredibly distracting. It's no secret that they're designed to be engaging and hold our attention, but this can also make it easy to lose track of time and ignore other responsibilities. For example, a study by the National Institute on Media and the Family found that teens who play video games for more than three hours a day are more likely to have lower grades and be more forgetful about completing their homework. And it's not just kids who can fall into the trap of screen distraction - adults can too. Dr. Kardaras cites a study that found that employees who spend just an hour a day on their smartphones are 40% less productive.
But the dangers of screens go beyond just distraction.
According to Kardaras, screens can also have a negative impact on mental health, leading to issues like depression, anxiety, and sleep problems. He writes, "Screen-time is correlated with mental health issues in kids, including depression, anxiety, and suicidality... Too much screen-time can cause problems with sleep, which is crucial for proper brain development and functioning."
Kardaras briefly writes about the exclusive - and private - Waldorf schools in Palo Alto, CA. Many of silicon valley's executives send their children to the Waldorf school. The interesting part is that these school are completely technology-free. No iPads, no laptops, no smart phones, no smart boards. Why do these people push technology use in public schools, but choose not to send their own kids to high-tech schools? The irony of the world's top technology executives from Google, Microsoft, Twitter and many others choosing to send their kids to tech-free schools is, well, rich.
It's not just mental health that can be impacted by screens. As Kardaras discusses in his book, screens can also have negative effects on physical health, including issues like obesity, vision problems, and even an increased risk of cancer. He cites a study that found that people who played video games for more than three hours a day were at a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors that increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. And he also discusses research linking screen time to an increased risk of breast and prostate cancer.
The dangers of screen addiction are real and varied. But what can be done about it?
It's important for parents to set limits on screen time for their kids and to model healthy screen habits themselves. Kardaras recommends incorporating more non-screen activities into kids' daily routines, such as outdoor play, reading, and creative hobbies.
In addition to the dangers already mentioned, screens can also have a negative impact on social skills and relationships. As Kardaras writes in Glow Kids, "Screen-time can be a major contributor to social isolation and the breakdown of relationships... The more time kids spend in the virtual world, the less time they spend in the real world, interacting with real people and developing real relationships." This can be especially true for younger children who may not yet have fully developed social skills and who may rely on screens as a substitute for face-to-face interactions.
Another concern is the impact of screens on brain development. Kardaras discusses research indicating that excessive screen time can lead to structural changes in the brain, including a decrease in grey matter (which is involved in muscle control, sensory perception, and decision making) and an increase in white matter (which is involved in communication between different areas of the brain).
He also cites research linking excessive screen time to a decrease in attention span and an increase in impulsivity.
So what can be done to protect kids from the negative impacts of screens?
Kardaras recommends a number of strategies, including setting limits on screen time, incorporating non-screen activities into kids' daily routines, and making sure that kids have a balanced diet and get enough sleep. He also advises parents to be aware of the content that their kids are consuming, as certain types of content (such as violent or sexual content) can have particularly harmful effects.
It's also important for parents to be aware of the signs of screen addiction and to take action if they notice any concerning behavior. According to Kardaras, some signs to look out for include:
A preoccupation with screens, even when they're not in use
Mood changes (such as irritability or aggression) when screen time is restricted
A lack of interest in other activities
Difficulty sleeping or falling asleep
Neglecting personal hygiene
Poor performance in school or at work
If you notice any of these signs in your child, it's a good idea to take a closer look at their screen use and consider implementing some of the strategies mentioned above. If you feel like things are getting out of control, it might be a good idea to seek the help of a professional.
While screens can certainly be a useful and enjoyable part of our lives, it's important to be aware of the potential dangers of screen addiction and to use them in moderation. By setting limits, engaging in non-screen activities, and modeling healthy habits, we can help ensure that screens are a positive rather than negative influence in our lives.
For further reading:
Bryant, J., "The Impact of Video Games on Children: A Review of the Literature." Aggression and Violent Behavior, vol. 14, no. 3, May-Jun. 2009.
D.F. Strayer, "Driver Distraction in Commercial Vehicle Operations." Public Roads, vol. 73, no. 3, Mar. 2010.
Ferguson, C. J., "Video Games and Youth Violence: A Prospective Analysis in Adolescents." Journal of Youth and Adolescence, vol. 39, no. 4, Apr. 2010.
Gentile, D. A., "The Effects of Violent Video Game Habits on Adolescent Aggressiveness, Hostility, and Dating." Journal of Adolescence, vol. 27, no. 1, Feb. 2004.
Lau, R. Y., "The Association Between Time Spent on Video Games and Excess Weight Gain Among Adolescents." Pediatrics, vol. 123, no. 2, Feb. 2009.
P. K. Smith, "Video Game Addiction: Past, Present, and Future." Current Psychiatry Reports, vol. 15, no. 7, Jul. 2013.
Przybylski, A. K., "The Role of Need Satisfaction in Motivating Video Game Play." Motivation and Emotion, vol. 37, no. 2, Apr. 2013.
"Video Game Addiction." National Institute on Media and the Family, www.mediafamily.org/facts/facts_vga.shtml.