The Dark Side of Technology Withdrawal

Brad Huddleston

I can’t tell you how many times, after giving a talk, a parent has come up to me and said something like, “You just described my child to a tee.”

The only thing I do is give a list of the general symptoms of digital addiction with explanations. Here’s the list:

  • anger
  • aggression
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • irritability
  • attention deficits
  • emotional numbness

         There are more, but in my experience, these are the most common. I convey to my audiences that most of us experience at least some of these symptoms simply because of our daily stresses. What I’m talking about is an exacerbation of these symptoms brought on by addiction.

         Anger and aggression are at the top of the list for a reason. These two are the ones I hear about most often, and they can turn horrid. For example, 17-year-old Daniel Petric from Ohio made national news for shooting his parents after they took the violent video game Halo 3 away from him.[i] His mother died, and his father was injured. If you don’t think it can get that extreme in your home, think again. Daniel’s conviction was in 2009.[ii] Video game technology has and continues to advance at a mind-numbing pace, and the brain clearly cannot handle the ever-growing levels of stimulation.

         Dr. Victoria Dunckley, in her book, Reset Your Childs Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time, describes the intensified psychiatric symptoms this way:

Screen-time affects our brains and bodies at multiple levels, manifesting in various mental health symptoms related to mood, anxiety, cognition, and behavior. Because the effects of screen-time are complicated and diverse, I’ve found it helpful to conceptualize the constellation of common phenomena as a syndrome—what I call Electronic Screen Syndrome (ESS). Importantly, ESS can occur in the absence of a psychiatric disorder and yet mimic one, or it can occur in the face of an underlying disorder and exacerbate it.[iii]

I strongly encourage family physicians, counselors, psychologists, etc., to add technology usage questions to their diagnostic criteria, especially when they cannot pinpoint the exact cause of a patient’s emotional disturbances. In other words, don’t rule out digital addiction as a cause or a significant contributing factor, particularly when a patient says something like, “I don’t use social media all that much,” or “I keep an eye on my child’s video gaming. He only plays occasionally.” Without being judgmental, red flags always go up when I hear statements such as these. I don’t believe that a parent who is addicted to devices is qualified to self-diagnose or properly evaluate their tech-addicted children.

The link between excessive smartphone use and depression and suicide hasn’t gone unnoticed with people connected to the tech industry. It might seem counter-intuitive that Apple investors would urge the tech giant to curb smartphone addiction.[iv] After all, wouldn’t they welcome addiction as a way to make a return on their investment? I’m quite confident many have. While the love of money is the root of all evil, it’s refreshing that at least some investors still appear to care more about people than generating wealth. An Associated Press article explained why they’re concerned:

The investors’ letter cited various studies on the negative effects of smartphones and social media on children’s mental and physical health. Examples include distractions by digital technologies in the classroom, a decreased ability of students to focus on educational tasks, and higher risks of suicide and depression.[v]

What was Apple’s response? On June 4, 2018, Apple issued a press release titled, iOS 12 introduces new features to reduce interruptions and manage screen time.[vi]

Have these and other tracking apps worked? Perhaps for a small minority, but in the big picture, I believe that as technology continues to advance at a mind-numbing pace, so have the associated problems. And the primary reason they’re not even making a dent? Implementing accountability apps before  eliminating the addiction is like putting a Band-Aid® on a broken leg.

Addiction carries with it a far more powerful force than what accountability apps have to offer. There are only two things that can break this stronghold. The first has to be something more powerful than the addiction, and that is God’s power.

the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing. Isaiah 10:27 (KJV)

The second is a physical separation from all screen activity, including television. Only after the brain has reset following a detox will we have the potential to use technology in ways that benefit us instead

[i] “Teen Who Killed over Video Game Gets 23 Years.” NBCNews.com, NBC Universal News Group, 16 June 2009, www.nbcnews.com/id/31387876/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/t/teen-who-killed-over-video-game-gets-years/#.Xk6x3RNKjUI. Accessed Feb. 20, 2020.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Dunckley, Victoria L. Reset Your Childs Brain: a Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time. New World Library, 2015. Page 16.

[iv] “Apple Investors Urge Action to Curb Child Gadget Addiction.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 9 Jan. 2018, apnews.com/5337738caa0140ae9c16dbc743ee1571. Accessed Feb. 16, 2020.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] “IOS 12 Introduces New Features to Reduce Interruptions and Manage Screen Time.” Apple Newsroom, 6 Feb. 2020, www.apple.com/newsroom/2018/06/ios-12-introduces-new-features-to-reduce-interruptions-and-manage-screen-time/. Accessed Feb. 16, 2020.

 

This article is from Brad’s upcoming book, Digital Rehab: Digital Detox and Beyond. More about Brad’s work can be found at bradhuddleston.com.

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Brad Huddleston

About Brad Huddleston

Brad Huddleston is an internationally respected speaker, consultant, teacher and author on important issues such as technology and culture. He has worked with universities, schools, churches and law enforcement, and spoken to hundreds of thousands around the world on both the advantages of well-used technology tools and the dangers of the growing trend toward technology addiction. Brad has an on-going collaboration with the Bureau of Market Research (BMR) and its Neuroscience Division at the University of South Africa. Brad has a degree in Computer Science and a Diploma of Biblical Studies and is a credentialed minister in the Acts 2 Alliance (A2A) movement in Australia. He's also a frequent guest on radio and television and author of Digital Cocaine: A Journey Toward iBalance and The Dark Side of Technology: Restoring Balance in the Digital Age. Brad and his wife, Beth, live in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in the United States.