If every parent knew and acted on the research presented in Nicholas Kardaras’s Glow Kids, students would learn much better, fewer kids would be on medication for attention and mental health issues, and the psych wards for young people would not be as full.
I have been trying to review Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking our Kids—and How to Break the Trance for months, and each time it would expand into a lengthy exploration of various concepts in the book. Elsewhere I discuss the practical educational applications of this book for homeschoolers as well as the mental health implications of screens for kids. Here, finally, is the book review itself.
For some time, screens seemed to be the solution to a whole host of parenting-related issues. They held promise as educational miracles, replacing teachers and enabling even young children to learn incredible amounts of information. They seemed to be a splendid babysitter, pacifying young children with educational programs and keeping teens safely off the streets while still allowing them to connect with others.
But, as always, there are negative aspects and it turns out that the negative impacts of screens are far more significant than anticipated.
In Glow Kids Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, a psychiatrist specializing in youth and addictions and a recovering addict himself, shows how the glowing screens that hold such appeal even for us adults can physically alter the developing brains of our kids, leading to ‘a whole host of clinical disorders and a digitally induced adolescent malaise.’ (5)
From a graphic description of his first meeting of a youth with game-induced psychosis to the revelation that excessive screen exposure can neurologically damage a developing brain ‘in the same way that cocaine addiction can,’ Kardaras blends clinical research, stories from his own practice, and data on brain imaging to present the case that screens can be harmful for kids and teens.
Kids and young teens spend hours with screens and this is when the real damage happens. Between games and social media, both deliberately designed to be as addictive as possible (there’s a reason tech giants keep screens away from their young kids), children’s brains suffer, with devastating consequences. Kardaras discusses how anxiety, depression, psychosis, ADHD, Electronic Screen Syndrome, and a new disease, disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, are related to screen use. In fact, for each of these conditions, the first intervention he suggests, before prescribing medications, is a full digital detox. It is also vital to have kids connect with other people and to spend time in nature. In many cases these simple interventions are enough to restore kids to health although, like all recovering addicts, they will need guidance when they begin to use screens again (120, 238, 243). (For a more thorough discussion of this topic, see my article, “Screens and our Kids’ Mental Health, with Tips for Parents.”)
Kardaras discusses extreme cases of violence, bullying, and suicide and how they are affected by screens and our connected world. Obviously, he also needs to counter those who say that there is no valid connection between screens and such behavior, and he does that very well.
He also outlines why parents are so eager to have their children ‘safe’ at home instead of outside exploring the real world which is often dangerous in a different way. At our place, the outside world contains bears, wolves, coyotes, and hunters; other parents are concerned about human predators, drugs, and crime. However, if we try to keep our children safe inside by giving them hours of screen use, we are letting the danger into our homes.
And, most pertinent to homeschooling parents, Kardaras points out that even educational programs can cause problems. In fact, he presents data that suggest that screens are not only unnecessary in education but actually harmful in all but the best schools, with worse effects for younger students and students in disadvantaged schools. There are nuances to this, of course, especially for special needs students, but on the whole children and young teens have suffered academically from the introduction of computer-based learning as well as from their non-academic screen time. Furthermore, as Kardaras carefully outlines, some companies have made enormous amounts of money by promising an educational dream that has turned to a nightmare. (For a more thorough discussion of this topic and suggestions for homeschooling, including computer-delivered learning, please see my article “Glow Kids, Screens, and Education”.)
All these ideas may be overwhelming and distressing, but it is good for us to grapple with them and make informed decisions on what place technology should have in our own children’s lives. Most of us are already doing that with internet safety protocols, but in Glow Kids Kardaras shows us that screens harbor many dangers besides porn and online predators, devastating as they may be. It is obvious that screens are part of modern life and we cannot do without them, but what we need help with is how to help our children develop a healthy relationship with them. Kardaras helps with that, and there is more information in the two related articles I have written.
Glow Kids is full of information that all parents need to know. Even though we were a fairly low-screen-use family, how I wish I had access to this information when my children were young! Reading it is well worth the effort, and I highly recommend Kardaras’s Glow Kids to homeschooling parents, as well as to all parents, educators, counsellors, and politicians.
- Many of the ideas of Glow Kids are suitable to share with children, but do not hand the book to your child or young teen without having read it first; parts of it are very disturbing.
- Although this book is easy to read, it is so full of information that at times it can feel somewhat overwhelming and disorganized. If you wish to learn even more about any topic, Kardaras has included extensive notes and references.
- As you read, you will want to bookmark all the pages of practical interest to you because the index is rather sparse.
Disclosure: I borrowed this book from the library on the recommendation of a pediatric concussion specialist MD—statistically, phone use and kids’ susceptibility to serious concussions have increased at the same time—and have given my own honest opinions.