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Doc Claims Too Much Screen Time Turns Kids Into Digital Junkies

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) - Smart screens are everywhere these days and it seems like everyone has them including young kids. The debate over 'how much screen time is too much' is nothing new but there's one doctor who says the problem is so severe, he's dubbed it "digital heroin."

In his book Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids and How to Break the Trance, author Dr. Nicholas Kardaras likens the effects of excessive screen exposure to the neurological damage caused by drug addiction.

"Obviously I'm not implying that screen addiction is as fatal as the opiate epidemic we are experiencing nationally, but it is, it is, as addictive as a lot of the other substance addiction we treat," said Dr. Kardaras.

What about tablets at school?

Dr. Kardaras says research indicates retention rates are lower on screens than on paper, and that schools without electronics report higher test scores.

"What we do know is that educational technology, 'Ed Tech' is a 60-billion dollar a year global industry and I hate to say it, but there's a financial agenda involved."

How do parents feel?

Leci Valdes is a busy Miami mom of three daughters. A 3-year-old, and 10-month-old twins.

"A normal day in the Valdes household is pretty crazy, but I'm getting my groove," said Valdes who explained it's all about balance. That means limiting her daughter Mila's screen time, specifically time spent on smart phones and tablets.

"She would lay right next to me, she would be on my phone or my iPad for 25 to 30 minutes and I would get a break," explained Valdes. "I was noticing however with my child a pattern. And the pattern was, when I asked to have the iPad given back or the phone to be given back to me, the reaction was mind-blowing to be frank."

She says the tantrums lasted longer than the screen time itself.

Reactions like that are part of the reason Dr. Kardaras has dubbed smart-screens "digital heroin."

"When I call screen technology digital heroin, I really don't make that comparison lightly," said Dr. Kardaras.

Like Valdes, Kardaras is a parent of twins, 9-year-old boys in his case and he says he knows it's tough to keep the screens at bay.

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The best thing a parent can do is slow down the unleashing of technology on children as much as possible."

Even though the American Association of Pediatrics recently modified its screen recommendations, suggesting children ages 2 to 5 can get an hour of screen time daily if viewed with parents, Dr. Kardaras disagrees.

"I mean this very sincerely, I find it easier to treat heroin addiction and crystal meth addiction because we have protocols in place to treat those addictions. An abstinence seems to be the solution to that. But you can't be digitally abstinent in modern society," said Kardaras.

Now, Mila gets half an hour of screen time after school on Fridays only. That's what works best for the Valdes family but Leci knows tablets and smart phones are definitely in her daughters' futures.

"We gotta be realistic too with where we are going. Good or bad, it's going there. I think the way we approach it has to be a way that is best for the child. I would not be opposed to it, but I don't want my kid on it the whole time," said Valdes.

Dr. Kardaras says he recommends avoiding interactive screen time for kids until about age 10, but he insists all screens are not created equal. He says TV time doesn't have quite the same effect.

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