‘Glow Kids’ Confirmed My Hunches (and Gave Me Hope)

We have a responsibility to help the young people in our lives, and this book is a great tool to have in your resource kit.

(photo: Register Files)

I live in a world of contradiction: while I love technology in ways that make me jump up and down and squeal in excitement, I also can’t deny the pleasure in screen-free afternoons and a brand-new hardcover book.

And there’s no denying that technology — and especially the small screens that are seeping into everything — is affecting my kids.

My kids aren’t the only ones. Even as schools are touting iPads and Chromebooks as the answer to textbook funding questions, a generation of kids is walking around with that look.

You know the one?

They look dazed. Unused to sunlight. Not really great at making eye contact.

And searching for the small screen as if it’s the source of their next hit.

We shouldn’t be surprised, really. There’s a generation of adults walking around glued to the pocket-sized computer “phones.” Why do we expect anything different from our kids?

I was floating along, sort of dealing with this concern in my own home and kind of ignoring it. My kids don’t have smartphones, but…they do have tablets (they saved and bought them themselves). We have a family trac phone that has pretty much been claimed by the 12-year-old, but it’s not smart.

And so, when that friend sent me a link that led me to get Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids—And How to Break the Trance (St. Martin’s Press, 2016) from our local library, I didn’t realize what was about to happen in my own mind.

As it happened, I wasn’t able to sit down and power through Glow Kids. And I had to purchase my own copy, because I knew that I needed to share it with my husband.

“You’re going to have to read this,” I told him as I handed it to him. “That way, you’ll understand why I’m crazy.”

It doesn’t take a neurologist to see the affect 10 minutes of tablet time has on our six-year-old. And, according to author Nicholas Kardaras, who’s spent time as a school counselor and researching this topic for decades, writes:

We have research from several recent brain-imaging studies that show us that tech exposure can also alter brain structure and myelination in exactly the same way that drugs can.

Yes, that’s right: that iPad that your child’s school thought would be so wonderful as a first-grade learning tool is making your child’s brain resemble that of a drug addict.

This is about more than just extra recesses at school. In fact, Kardaras has outlined the problem thoroughly in the 250 pages of Glow Kids. He looks at different aspects and categories, including video games and the gaming effect, texting and social media, mass media’s effects, psychosis associated with gaming, and the money trail that’s led schools to adopt technology solutions when it was perhaps unnecessary.

What I really appreciated most about Glow Kids, though, was the solutions Kardaras proposes. Though he spends the bulk of the book outlining and explaining the many problems and difficulties associated with the pervasiveness of small screens, he also offers wisdom and insight throughout the book.

And yes, there’s a chapter with “solution” in the title. It offers more than just “take away all the screens,” too. (Because we all know that’s not going to happen. I may not need my smartphone, but now that I have one, I’m not just chucking it, either.)

With kids and tech addiction, we can say that a kid who may feel disconnected and trapped finds a sense of connection and escape in screen life—only to get trapped in the Matrix. We get that; we can understand the escapist tendency.

So what’s the solution?

Well, two things. Rat Park taught us that the happier and more fulfilled the rat’s life was, the less likely it was to drink the morphine water and become addicted. So from a preventative standpoint, a kid who has healthy human connections and healthy hobbies and outlets is less likely to fall into the Matrix.

But we also know that about 10 percent of people—including kids—are predisposed toward addiction. A child among that 10 percent, even one who has the best and most loving supports, may be more vulnerable to the Matrix once they taste digital drugs like hyperarousing video games and experience their addicting dopaminergic effect.

So what do we do in those instances? A kid who may not have been aware that addiction runs in the family suddenly gets hooked on a video game—or becomes an addicted texture or Facebook addict. Then what?

Breaking free of an unhealthy relationship with tech is similar to breaking free of an eating disorder; unlike drugs and alcohol, from which one can abstain, food and, it can be argued, technology are unavoidable. Except for those who have gone entirely off the grid, we all inevitably interact with tech. The key is a healthy relationship with tech through a balance with real-life experiences.

As I read Glow Kids, I found myself identifying with what Kardaras observes and supports with research (both his own and others’). I’m far older than my kids and a generation or two beyond those who I’m most concerned about, but…there’s still a lot for me in this book.

There’s value in that. I identify with the problems our kids are facing, but, lucky for me, I didn’t have to face them when my brain was still forming and maturing.

We have a responsibility to help the young people in our lives, and this book is a great tool to have in your resource kit.