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Columns

River Town Chronicles: Screenagers hooked on digital cocaine

My wife, Tia, Facebooks. One day she showed me a photo of several millennials sitting beside Rembrandt’s wall-sized “The Night Watch.” Endearing, right? Except that none were looking at the painting; they were staring into their cellphones.

Maybe they were researching the subtle use of light and dark, or the painting’s illusion of movement. However, if you were around teens as much as I, being a teacher, you’d have your doubts.

Screenagers start young. Two-year-olds today work smartphones better than a bestselling novelist works a keyboard. According to Victoria L. Dunckley, M.D.: A “rise in childhood psychosocial and neurodevelopmental issues has increased in lockstep with the insidious growth of electronic-screen exposure in daily life. ... Children aged 2 to 6 now spend two to four hours a day screen-bound ... and children ages 8 to 18 … nearly seven and a half hours.”

Dunckley’s book, “Reset Your Child’s Brain,” describes extensive screen users exhibiting Electronic Screen Syndrome, suffering symptoms of “rage, depression, or aggression,” as well as isolation from others. Her remedy, an “electronic fast” (going cold turkey – no screen time), which almost immediately pays off in better attitude, better sleep, better grades and less stress.

Other voices support Dunckley’s. In “Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids – and How To Break the Trance,” Nicholas Kardaras, Ph.D., an addiction specialist, describes an Asperger’s patient constantly playing the “Final Fantasy” role-playing game, which he relates – in general – to “digital cocaine,” at school and at home until falling asleep. When he failed all his classes, his grandmother insisted he go screen-free; the resulting multiple meltdowns confirmed Kardaras’ prognosis.

“He was going through screen withdrawal,” Kardaras writes. “Over the few months that he was screen-free, his social skills progressed dramatically.”

Still skeptical? Kardaras reports severe burn victims finding pain relief when playing video games as opposed to actual narcotics.

Unlike other countries, America’s academics, politicians and parents are still in denial. A CNN segment showed China acknowledging “the addictive nature of the internet,” users 8 to 30 years old “quarantined from their compulsive use of technology” in military-style boot camps.

Violent-game addicted kids aren’t the only ones getting burned. Reviewing Kardaras’ book, Joan Baum cites, “ordinary kids with no psychological problems are adversely affected by excessive reliance on technology,” resulting in decreased “attention span, focus, imagination, not to mention physical fitness.”

Adults, too, suffer digital addiction. Anderson Cooper, on “60 Minutes,” begins, “According to a former Google products manager [Tristan Harris], Silicon Valley is engineering your phone, apps and social media to get you hooked.” Programmers call the need to constantly check your phone “brain hacking,” exemplified by alluring likes, too-cute emojis and an elusive string of followers. Stress and anxiety are raised when the number of likes decline or a text message dings that can’t be immediately answered.

Engineered prompts have turned us into Pavlov’s salivating dogs.

Tired of being tyrannized by your smartphone? This July 4 declare independence from dings and doom. Remember the rallying cry, “Give me liberty, or give me a landline!”

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