DETROIT (WXYZ) - We carry our cell phones everywhere, and they are an easy distraction for not only adults, but children. But is it dangerous? Right now researchers at Children's Hospital of Michigan and Wayne State University are looking into that.
As we worked on a story about their research, WXYZ executive producer Jodie Heisner and her husband Jeff volunteered to find out how tablet use impacts their children Ella, 9, and Jackson, 7. Once Ella and Jackson learned they'd get to play on a tablet for an experiment, they were in.
“He would almost rather play on his tablet than do just about anything,” Jeff Heisner said of his son Jackson.
Psychiatrist Dr. David Rosenberg and Psychologist Dr. Preeya Taormina hooked the two children up to sensors that can measure how stimulating an activity is by monitoring the activity of one’s sweat glands.
The sensor showed the tablet is much more stimulating than other activities. Plus, the children’s moods changed; Ella, for example, went from exhausted to happy.
“Games like this stimulate the reward center of the brain,” said Dr. Taormina.
Their parents say Jackson gets upset and grumpy when tablet time is done.
“[Playing the game on a tablet] causes a release of neurotransmitters that make you feel better, make you feel awake,” said Dr. Taormina.
The risk is, if unchecked, a child could pursue that digital high again and again, until it becomes an unhealthy habit that literally impacts their brain function.
Dr. Rosenberg showed us MRI images of the brains of children with internet addiction. You can see activity in the brain decrease.
“The brain shuts down and its executive functioning is not working,” said Dr. Rosenberg.
To Dr. Rosenberg it looks familiar. It looks like a brain addicted to drugs. He says a brain hooked on the internet, phones, or tablets looks like a brain hooked on heroin.
The good news is it appears to be reversible. After a “digital fast” the brain activity returns.
“The people who are making the games are designing them to hook us. to get us addicted, to make it so we don’t want to do anything else,” said Dr. Rosenberg.
So how do you protect your children? It is all about getting help if you need it. Often people with underlying issues are more prone to becoming hooked on technology. It is also about having rules.
“We saw the two children today, their parents were on top of things,” said Dr. Rosenberg.
“Do not let them use it before homework. Do not let them use it during the week, but let them use it on the weekends as a reward after everything is down,” said Heisner of the rules for his children.
“I always tell parents that parenthood is not a democracy, at best it is a benevolent dictatorship and we have to take ownership, because this is part of our society and culture,” said Dr. Rosenberg.