Tech Giants Accused of Addicting Kids to Technology: Is It True?
Any parent who has attempted to get their children to do chores—or even just to go play outside—when the child was immersed in the digital world has had to wonder whether technology is addictive in the same way that narcotics can be. Is it true that tech giants are addicting kids to technology?
The Science of Addiction
Some psychologists have in fact made the case that technology companies are intentionally perverting what we know about how the brain works to get people addicted to their platforms. It seems that some people are better at overcoming the allure of technology, but, for many people, the pull is just as real and just as powerful as any other substance to which one might become addicted. Since tech companies want to turn a profit, it would not be surprising to learn that they use the best tools available, including what we know about how the brain works, to make that happen.
The Other Side
But that is not a universal opinion. Other scholars claim that, while technology can certainly be appealing, framing it as an addiction is not only scientifically inaccurate but likely to lead to a sense of panic that is not helpful in teaching children to moderate their behavior. They claim that scientific evidence simply does not back up the claim that technology is addictive in the same way that, for example, nicotine is.
Another way to look at the problem is like this: technology might not technically affect the brain in the same way as a drug, but the effect on behavior is roughly the same. This view elides the scientific questions about addiction in order to focus on the behavior—and the behavior of many children and teens is rather disturbing. There is little room left for hobbies, relationships, and nature when so much time is spent in front of screens. That is especially true when digital media focuses on the lowest common denominator of human interests.
So what is a parent to do? It may be best to avoid the academic debate about whether technology addiction is an actual addiction and focus instead on what children are doing with their time and how they are behaving.
Children need to learn to develop self-regulation and to learn advanced executive function skills, and excessive screen time can interfere with both of these goals—addiction or not. So parents would be wise to focus on behavior, not on labels.