Many parents know that granting kids access to smart devices can already be a slippery slope (these hilarious PSAs starring Will Ferrell even highlight the effects on adults), but one addiction expert is now making a serious case for restricting screentime. In fact, giving children smartphones is like "giving them a gram of cocaine," argues Mandy Saligari, a rehabilitation specialist at Harley Street, a drug and alcohol clinic in the UK.
Speaking at an education conference in London, Saligari explained that apps like Instagram and Snapchat can be just as addictive for teens as drugs and alcohol, reports the Independent. "I always say to people, when you're giving your kid a tablet or a phone, you're really giving them a bottle of wine or a gram of coke," she said. "Why do we pay so much less attention to [smartphones and other devices with screens] than we do to drugs and alcohol when they work on the same brain impulses?"
Saligari notes that many parents, teachers, and schoolteachers tend to underestimate how addicting digital technology is for children, particularly those between the ages of 12 and 15. She points out that people often focus on the effects of substance abuse, but what's most important is examining all forms of behavioral patterns that are manifestations of addiction, like self-harm, food obsessions, and sexting.
That's not all: When it comes to smartphone usage among 13- and 14-year-old girls, Saligari explains that many of them believe it's "completely normal" to send nude images of themselves—and that it's only "wrong" if a parent or adult finds out.
In fact, one Seattle rehab center is even treating children who are addicted to mobile devices with "intense recovery programs," according to the British news publication. The Independent notes that Restart Life Centre's founder, Hilarie Cash, reveals that screen devices can dampen children's natural instincts to explore and seek out social interaction and movement.
The solution? In regard to sexting among teen girls, Saligari stresses the importance of teaching self-respect, which will make them "less likely to exploit themselves in that way." In addition, families should openly discuss both the benefits and negative aspects of technology and establish clear rules for screentime, especially when devices begin to "interfere with family relationships, with responsibilities, with sleep, and many other things," suggests Cash.
Head over to the Independent to read more eye-opening statistics about device addiction among kids, then tell us if you have a strategy for restricting smartphone usage with your children.