On August 28, The Post published a piece by Dr. Nicholas Kardaras,“The Frightening Effects of Digital Heroin,” that was based on his book “Glow Kids.” In it, he argued that young children exposed to too much screen time are at risk of developing an addiction “harder to kick than drugs.” The response was overwhelming, generating more than 3.3 million views on The Post’s website and hundreds of letters from anxious parents. Now Dr. Kardaras writes about this parental revolt against digital heroin and reminds readers of the worst effects of the obsession.
His first exposure to screens occurred in first grade at a highly regarded public school — named one of California’s “Distinguished Schools” — when he was encouraged to play edu-games after class. His contact with screens only increased during play dates where the majority of his friends played violent games on huge monitors in their suburban homes.
The results for Barbara’s son were horrific: Her sweet boy, who had a “big spirit” and loved animals, now only wanted to play inside on a device.
“He would refuse to do anything unless I would let him play his game,” she said. Barbara, who had discarded her TV 25 years ago, made the mistake of using the game as a bargaining tool.
Her son became increasingly explosive if she didn’t acquiesce. And then he got physical. It started with a push here, then a punch there. Frightened, she tried to take the device away. And that’s when it happened: “He beat the s–t out of me,” she told me.
When she tried to take his computer away, he attacked her “with a dazed look on his face — his eyes were not his.” She called the police. Shocked, they asked if the 9-year-old was on drugs.
In August, I wrote a piece about “digital heroin” for the New York Post, and the response was explosive. More than 3 million readers devoured and shared the piece — though not everyone agreed on its message. Some readers felt that the notion of comparing screens and video games to heroin was a huge exaggeration. He was — only his drugs weren’t pharmaceutical, they were digital.
I understand that initial response, but the research says otherwise. Over 200 peer-reviewed studies correlate excessive screen usage with a whole host of clinical disorders, including addiction. Recent brain-imaging research confirms that glowing screens affect the brain’s frontal cortex — which controls executive functioning, including impulse control — in exactly the same way that drugs like cocaine and heroin do. Thanks to research from the US military, we also know that screens and video games can literally affect the brain like digital morphine.
In a series of clinical experiments, a video game called “Snow World” served as an effective pain killer for burned military combat victims, who would normally be given large doses of morphine during their painful daily wound care. While the burn patient played the seemingly innocuous virtual reality game “Snow World” — where the player attempts to throw snowballs at cartoon penguins as they bounce around to Paul Simon music — they felt no pain.
I interviewed Lt. Sam Brown, one of the pilot participants in this research who had been injured by an IED in Afghanistan and who had sustained life-threatening third-degree burns over 30 percent of his body. When I asked him about his experience using a video game for pain management, he said: “I was a little bit skeptical. But honestly, I was willing to try anything.” When asked what it felt like compared to his morphine treatments, he said, “I was for sure feeling less pain than I was with the morphine.”
Sure enough, brain imaging research confirmed that burn patients who played “Snow World” experienced less pain in the parts of their brain associated with processing pain than those treated with actual morphine.
The Navy’s head of addiction research, Cmdr. Dr. Andrew Doan, calls screens “digital pharmakeia” (Greek for pharmaceuticals), a term he coined to explain the neurobiological effects produced by video technologies.
‘I feel like there is a war going on against our children. And it’s come so fast that we’re not even questioning it.’
While this is a wonderful advance in pain-management medicine, it begs the question: Just what effect is this digital drug — a narcotic more powerful than morphine — having on the brains and nervous systems of 7-year-olds addicted to their glowing screens?
If screens are indeed digital drugs, then schools have become drug dealers. Under misguided notions that they are “educational,” the entire classroom landscape has been transformed over the past 10 years into a digital playground that includes Chromebooks, iPads, Smart Boards, tablets, smartphones, learning apps and a never-ending variety of “edu-games.”
These so-called “edu-games” are digital Trojan horses — chock-full of the potential for clinical disorders. We’ve already seen ADHD rates explode by over 50 percent the past 10 years as a whole generation of screen-raised kids succumb to the malaise-inducing glow. Using hyper-stimulating digital content to “engage” otherwise distracted students creates a vicious and addictive ADHD cycle: The more a child is stimulated, the more that child needs to keep getting stimulated in order to hold their attention…