We're raising a generation of screen addicts and it’s being encouraged in the most unlikely of places – schools.
An Ivy League-educated expert in addiction says modern classrooms where kids under 10 use portable devices are most at risk.
American psychologist Dr Nicholas Kardaras has been actively advocating that screen addiction be recognised as a clinical disorder akin to substance addiction.
He says it’s easier to treat a heroin addict than a screen addict and education content has been "gamified".
In July, the former National government proposed a digitally oriented school curriculum.
Around $40 million was set to be spent raising teachers' skills to deliver the new curriculum, which would involve all pupils from Years 1 to 10 taking part in digital technologies education.
The new content covered two key areas – "computational thinking" and "designing and developing digital outcomes" – which would include computer programming.
However, Kardaras says there’s no compelling research to show technology in classrooms is fruitful.
"We've unleashed the hounds of digital technology on an unsuspecting generation without fully vetting these devices," he said.
"I'm not disputing there is a place for technology as a helpful adjunct to effective teaching, but we've essentially unleashed it without well-thought-out integration with classroom teachers.
"Having unfettered screen access in schools, especially in elementary levels [up to 10 years old], is problematic."
Kardaras says people are now increasingly aware about the impacts of too much screen time.
"The younger and more vulnerable the person is, the more significant the neurological impacts are."
Young children on a high-screen diet have higher rates of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and develop less of an ability to focus and be attentive.
"So the device, as a hyper-arousing stimulant, does developmental damage early on," Kardaras said.
"The frontal lobes get compromised by excessive screen usage.
"Children who are on screens for too long, the research shows the frontal cortex looks very similar to a chronic substance abuser.
"These devices are like digital drugs – they have very similar effects to the frontal cortex that drug addiction was having."
And the effects are nonreversible, he said.
Technology companies have used a false narrative that screens in education are educational, Kardaras said.
"It’s the soothing rationale that a lot of parents have convinced themselves of, to rely on a digital babysitter, that screens are educational."
In 2015, an OECD report entitled "Students, Computers and Learning" found that "no appreciable improvements in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that had invested heavily in ICT for education".
And in fact, "students who use computers very frequently at school do a lot worse in most learning outcomes, even after accounting for social background and student demographics".
"I call it a digital trojan horse, and the digital horse has been released both into the classroom and our homes onto the false narrative "educational," Kardaras said.
The leading psychologist has treated over 1000 substance addicts.
"You can live a happy life being drug- and alcohol-free, but screen addiction is more akin to an eating disorder, because a person with a disorder with eating can't live without food," he said.
"So with screen addiction, it’s almost impossible to be screen abstinent, unless you live off the grid on the mountain tops."
The number one suggestion that Kardaras makes to parents is to delay the onset of hand-held or personal devices.
"A desktop as part of a school experience a couple days a week, for a limited amount of time, I don't think that’s the worst thing in the world," he said.
"But a child is not neurologically equipped with the impulse control to moderate their behaviours on screen if they developed that compulsivity to that screen experience.
"My suggestion to parents is to advocate your school to not give your child a portable screen, certainly not before age 10."
Kardaras is the author of Glow Kids, a book on the clinical, neurological and sociological aspects of technology addiction. He has developed the most comprehensive treatment protocols to treat what he says is an emerging global problem.
He will be speaking at St Paul’s Collegiate School, on Hukanui Road, Hamilton, at 7pm on Wednesday. There is a $10 entry fee.