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Actor and filmmaker Kirk Cameron aims to get to the bottom of how technology and kids are interacting in his documentary “Connect.” He joins The Doctors to share some of his findings. The film says that 50% of kids feel addicted to their social media and this film illustrates some of the negative impacts of this addiction.
Kirk shares that even though kids are more connected than ever to this virtual world, experts are saying this is the loneliest generation of children and teenagers ever. They are lacking the real-world personal skills and relationship they need to become healthy adults.
The actor shares some startling findings such as the average age a kid first sees pornography is only 8 years old and kids begin experimenting with sexting as early as 10 years old.
He refers to his generation at “pioneer parents” because this technology wasn’t around when his parents were raising him. Parents have to grow with their kids as this new age of social media evolves. Kirk says with his own children, he and his wife have locked down their open internet connection and the ability to download apps. Instead, his wife will try downloading an app on her phone so they can all learn about it together as a family. Then, only when the kids are responsible enough, can they have it on their own.
The actor says they didn’t give their children phones until their youngest was about 13 years old, but many kids get them when they are much younger so even not giving a child phone doesn't mean they won't still be exposed to it. “We felt it’s similar to a car. Automobiles are dangerous but it’s not going away and it's the same with technology. It’s best to teach them how to use it responsibly, “ says Kirk.
Neurosurgeon Dr. Ian Armstrong joins the conversation to share the physiological changes that social media is causing, particularly on the teenage brain.
Dr. Armstrong explains that smartphones are a stimulant. Using them releases the feel-good chemical dopamine, which is correlated with the pleasure and reward center. It stimulates it in the same manner as other addictions like gambling and pornography do, as well as shows a similar response in the brain as to when someone uses drugs like cocaine.
Dr. Armstrong shares 3 ways to protect kids from addictive behavior:
1. Put limitations on phone time.
2. Avoid smartphone or screen time for up to two hours before bedtime. The blue light in phones can actually interfere with melatonin and the sleep cycle.
3. Create phone-free zones. Dinner time, study time, and family time are all good suggestions on when to remove the smartphone. The attention span of a young child is now only about 5 minutes so they need to have periods without the constant bombardment of stimulation.
Dr. Armstrong adds that the teenage brain has been rewired for adulthood and if it’s only stimulated in one manner the brain will prune and not develop other pathways. The addiction to smartphones is taking away from the well-rounded education needed to navigate life.
Dr. Travis encourages parents to talk with their kids about the impact of social media and cell phones so that they have an awareness. Plastic surgeon Dr. Andrew Ordon adds that parents need to lead by example with their own smartphone habits.
“You can’t protect them forever, but what you can do is build into their heart a filter that you can’t download through the app store and it’s called character,” says Kirk. Dr. Travis is impressed saying, “Damn, if that’s not the smartest thing anyone has ever said on this stage!”
For more info on Kirk’s film click here.