Contrary to popular belief, monitoring and setting boundaries on your children’s cell phone, video game, internet surfing, and social media time is no longer just a matter of improving your parenting skills.

According to the World Health Organization, compulsive video-game playing can now be classified as a mental health condition or addiction.

Dr. Nino Ramirez, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Brain Research for the Seattle Children’s Hospital, has conducted numerous studies on mice that show disturbing results from mice being exposed to rapid stimulation and switching from one screen to another. In these studies, the mice that were exposed to the flashing lights and repetitive sounds took three times longer to navigate through the maze than mice who were not exposed to the rapid stimulation.

“The mice brains that were over stimulated had less nerve cells, compared to those not stimulated," Ramirez noted.

In a recent episode of the Dr. Oz show, Dr. Delaney Ruston, internal medicine physician, documentarian, and mother of two, spoke of the effects cell phones and video games have on children’s brains. Dr. Ruston admitted that we can’t look at kids’ brains in the same microscopic way that we look at mice brains, however, the research is impressive.

“I can tell you that the studies are showing some concerning results,” she said. “For example, if you put kids in front of similar situations, many screens like that, and then you compare them to kids who are just playing with crayons, on tests that just look at their academic abilities, the kids who just played with crayons do a lot better.”

In addition, Dr. Ruston explained that there is a correlation between the more screen time children have and the lower their attention spans become. Indeed, the most unsettling aspect of these studies is that even after stopping the screen time, the brain damage was not reversed. The negative damage remained permanent.

Dr. Hilarie Cash is an expert on video and internet addictions. She is co-founder and chief clinical officer for restart Life, PLLC, a residential program designed explicitly for adults and adolescents who are experiencing serious problems because of addiction to the internet and video games. She is also the co-author of the book Video Games and Your Kids: How Parents Stay in Control.

Hilarie Cash

Dr. Hilarie Cash, PhD, Co-Author of "Video Games and Your Kids: How Parents Stay in Control"

During a live Partners in Health and Biz radio show interview on March 9, 2019, Dr. Cash shared examples of how video and internet addictions are real. She also explained that even though teens and young adults may be playing a lot of video and internet games, this does not necessarily mean they are addicted. Here's her description of the signs and symptoms of a true video addiction:

“What usually parents are going to see is their child withdrawing and holding up in their room and on their phone all the time, or up in their room on the computer and no longer wanting to participate with the family, and angry, very, very, angry, often violently so,” she explained.

Other symptoms may include violently screaming, yelling, and pushing when parents try to get them away from the devices.

“Parents will often start seeing grades dropping," Cash said. "Quite often, in our adolescent programs, the kids have stopped going to school. They are in what we call school refusal.” 

Cash also reflected on a call from a stepmom, shortly after opening her clinic, in which she saw a case of extreme video addiction:

“Her stepson was living with his grandmother, and yes he had one of his legs amputated because he had been sitting so long, for days on end, in one position. I supposed he got up to go to the bathroom, although there are many cases of kids who will just pee into a bottle and will soil themselves because they are unwilling to get up and leave what they are doing. I don’t know if that was his case. But in any case, because he wasn’t moving, he developed a blood clot, and they weren’t able to save his leg,” she recalled.

Major insomnia and difficulty sleeping is another symptom of video/ internet addiction.

If you believe your teenager, family member, or friend has a video/internet addiction and you’d like to get them evaluated, call the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction at 1-800-682-6934.

Want more health news? Here's everything you need to know about your thyroid gland.