AddictionClinical TopicsMy Nurse InfluencersTechnologyThe Dauntless Nurse

Dangers of digital media addiction

By: Kathleen Bartholomew, RN, MN

The World Health Organization as well as several tech companies are encouraging on-line gaming with discounts and slogans such as, “Play your part, play at home.” With schools closed, children suddenly have more time and access to the internet. Wiped out from a shift, nurses often return home to fight yet another battle. How can we prevent a past time from becoming an addiction? When does gaming become too much?

  1. Know the Do’s and Don’ts

Concerned and curious, I paid a visit to “reSTART Life”, the first treatment center in the nation for internet and screen addiction. The most enlightening part of my visit was the personal conversations with the residents themselves who struggled to make eye contact. Emphatically, these young men relayed what parents should NOT do:

  • Don’t tell kids its bad – instead, tell and show them the impact gaming has on their lives
  • Don’t get help until children admit there is a problem (it’s usually an event)
  • Don’t treat being on the internet as a reward
  • Don’t say “As long as you do what you are supposed to do (like good grades) then I don’t care”

What should parents do?

Unanimously, these young men wished that their parents had put parental controls on and offered explanations about the power of digital addiction. Most parents are not aware that excess gaming causes physical changes to the brain’s structure at a time when it is still evolving. A great place to start is by watching a short educational video by Dr. Sussman with your family.

  1. Know the signs and symptoms of addiction. According to re-START’s founder, Dr. Hillarie Cash, these are some signs to look out for:
    • Attention, learning, and self-control problems
    • Impaired social skills
    • Emotional problems, anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression
    • Aggression and indifference to human pain
    • Physical problems – eye strain, weakness, carpal tunnel
    • Strong correlation with sex and porn
  1. Lead by example. Educate yourself on the powerful pull of digital media. Consider downloading apps like “Moment” to monitor your own screen time, and then set a good example. (Over 60% of adults currently sleep with their cell phones, while half of adults read their emails during the night.) And most important of all, make meal time a cell phone free zone.
  2. Raise awareness. Bring up this subject to your representative, at PTA meetings, churches, and social gatherings to educate consumers about the insidious damage of digital media addition. The CDC has not yet acknowledged digital media addiction in their list of top ten public health concerns. We are late to the game. South Korea and China have both declared that gaming addiction was their number one public health problem in 2008. Today, these countries have sixteen treatment centers, a school internet screening tool, two-week detox programs, and over 5,000 counselors trained in internet addiction.

There is still time for nurses to rally together to preserve the personal connections that make us human, and to protect our children from dangers that they cannot see.

Additional Resource May 12th

The workshop on Adolescence, “Teens and Screens during COVID-19” will take place next week on Tuesday, May 12 from 12:00-1:30 EDT, moderated by Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Paul Weigle, chairman of the media committee of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Speakers include:

  • Tracy Asamoah, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist
  • Jean Twenge, Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University and author of iGen
  • Nicholas Kardaras, Author “Glow Kids”, Director of The National Institute for Digital Health & Wellness (NIDHW); Founder/CEO: Maui Recovery in Hawaii and Omega Recovery in Austin.

We hope that you and your network can join us. Please send any questions for the experts to

More reading

Kathleen Bartholomew, RN, MN, is an internationally recognized patient safety and health culture expert. Kathleen has spoken on leadership, communication, patient safety, and peer relationships to hospital executives and nurse leaders for twenty years.

All of her books come from her passion to understand the stories of nurses.  Her books, “Ending Nurse to Nurse Hostility” and “Speak Your Truth” illuminate our relationships with our peers and physician partners.  She is also co-author of “The Dauntless Nurse” which was written as a communication confidence builder.

Kathleen is also a guest Op Ed writer to the Seattle Times and has been interviewed twice on NPR’s “People’s Pharmacy”. Her Tedx Talk calls for changing our belief system from a hierarchy to equality in order to keep our patients safe – and also explains how disaster thrust her into ‘the best profession ever’.

You can also find more information about Kathleen on her websiteTwitter, and Facebook


The views and opinions expressed by My Nurse Influencer contributors are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or recommendations of the American Nurses Association, the Editorial Advisory Board members, or the Publisher, Editors and staff of American Nurse Journal. These are opinion pieces and are not peer reviewed.

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