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The need to stay in front of a television, Wii, or computer screen is a serious addiction with serious health implications, especially for children.

One of the other writers for Steady Health has told the story of how, growing up in America, his parents put him in a crib next to the old black and white television that they had connected to an antenna on the roof. Like other Americans of that time, they received three government-approved television channels and no others. 

An Addiction to Marx, Not Karl, But Groucho

This writer relates that he used to enjoy weekly visits from someone named Groucho Marx. This was not the Soviet Marx. This was the American comedian Marx with the prominent nose and eyebrows and horn-rimmed eyeglasses. He came to think of Groucho Marx as a member of the family, and even mourned when Groucho went away. This going away was not the comedian's death. Rather it occurred when his mother wisely decided it was not a good idea to place a baby's crib next to the TV. Of course, in the Soviet Union, we had an even wiser approach. We realized that the TV can be turned off.

Sadly, such wisdom is harder to find today all over the world. But why is this a problem?

This Is Your Brain on Gaming

Have you ever seen the American public service advertisements with the egg sizzling in a skillet with the announcer reading "This is your mind on drugs?" The principle could also be applied to digital devices.

Addiction expert Nicholas Kardaras warns that Internet addiction, gaming addiction, digital addiction, smartphone addiction, or computer addiction can damage a child's brain the same way that drug addiction can. Through his experience with many other kinds of addiction, and through a series of experiments with digital addicts, Kadaras explains how children are "stunting their own creative abilities" by constantly turning on their devices and turning off the world around them.

Kids who grow up with digital addiction are easily bored. That's not all. They themselves are boring. In treating over 1000 children who had digital addictions, Dr. Kardaras came to characterize them as lacking natural curiosity and deprived of the sense of wonder and imagination that children who have been raised without television have. They didn't know what was going on in the world around them. They didn't care what was going on in the world around them. They just wanted constant stimulation from their digital devices. Kardaras described the digital generation in terms of  a song the Oompa-Loompas sing in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory featuring the lyrics, "It rots the senses dead/It kills the imagination dead."

There are developmental windows during which neurons in the brain make connections. When youngsters sit in front of a bright lit screen, their brains don't have to do the heavy lifting to make the connections that keep them plugged into the world later.

On the other hand, that same glowing screen makes kids digital addicts. When game designers are testing new releases, they hook children up to galvanic skin sensors, EKGs, and blood pressure monitors. If a game doesn't raise children's blood pressure to 180/140, they send it back to the developers. In the real world, life or death excitement plays out in just a few seconds. There is a huge adrenaline rush, but hormone levels go back to normal quickly so the brain can take it all in. With video games and to a lesser extent movies and TV, there is constant excitement for hours and no need for reflection, just more and more stimulation.

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