CT News

Conversation with Dr. David Greenfield

Behavioral addiction expert to speak at screening of “Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age”

By Judie Jacobson

WEST HARTFORD – In this high-tech world, what effect is spending an buckets of time staring at a screen having on our children’s development? How do we empower our kids to best navigate the high-tech world and manage screen time?

The dilemmas faced by children growing up in the digital age is the focus of “Screenagers” – an award-winning documentary by filmmaker (and mom) Dr. Delaney Ruston that explores the impact of screen technology – e.g., social media, video games, internet addiction, etc. – on today’s kids, and offers solutions to empower their children to find balance in a tech-filled world.

The documentary will be presented at the Mandell JCC on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 7-8:30 p.m.

The film will be followed by a panel discussion moderated by Channel 3 Eyewitness News anchor Dennis House, and featuring Dr. David Greenfield, a world-renowned expert on process and behavioral addictions and a JFS mental health professional. Several local teenagers will also offer testimonials on how they deal with social media. Both parents and teens are encouraged to attend the the screening and discussion.

The founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, Dr. David Greenfield is assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. Widely published, he is the editor of numerous psychiatric and addiction journals, and the author of Virtual Addiction, which rang an early warning bell regarding the country’s growing Internet addiction problem.

Greenfield lectures to public and medical groups throughout the world, and has appeared on CNN, Good Morning America, The Today Show, Fox News, ESPN, NPR and HBO. His work has been featured in U.S. News and World Report, Newsweek, People, Time, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and The Economist. 

Greenfield is a member of the American Society for Addiction Medicine, Fellow and Past-president of the Connecticut Psychological Association, The Sexual Medicine Society of North America, and American Society for the Advancement of Pharmacotherapy. Dr. Greenfield and recently completed his post-doctoral training in Clinical Psychopharmacology. He resides and maintains an addiction and behavioral  medicine practice in Connecticut.

Recently, Dr. Greenfield shared with the Ledger his thoughts on technology and its effects on children and parents.


JEWISH LEDGER (JL): “Screenagers” opened with a 13-year-old girl trying to convince her mother to get her a smartphone. Should her mom give in?

DAVID GREENFIELD (DG): In today’s society, it is unrealistic to deny your teen a smartphone. About 90 percent of the general population owns a smartphone. Smartphones have become an inherent part of our culture such as a piece of clothing, a must-have accessory or an accoutrement. Like getting your drivers license, the smartphone is a rite of passage, and a part of the youth culture’s  differentiation from previous generations. Parents should monitor usage and set parameters, such as establishing blocks from certain social media and pornography sites. Also, parents can work with their service providers to track usage and establish customized settings like shutting off at night-time. Kids should generally not have their phone in their bedrooms at night, and should not use them within 60 minutes of going to bed.


JL: Statistics show that 70 percent of boys play video games an average of 2.5 hours a day/seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. A problem?

DG: No, I don’t feel this time-frame is necessarily harmful. Data shows that the average American TV viewing time is 4-6 hours per day. Parents should be concerned when there are changes in a child’s behavior, such as loss of family and peer relationships, academic performance and reduced physical activity. There needs to be a healthy life-balance. At the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, we see patients who use technology for more than 10-15 hours per day. It is our aspiration that screen time be limited to no more than two hours of per day, but there is variability in that number and variables such as academics and work must be considered.


JL: What is the impact of modern technology on our children’s brains?

DG: Data shows that technology impacts the neurophysiological and neurobiological functioning of our brain, with changes in both white and grey matter, including cognitive and emotional function such as reduced attention span, delay in gratification and patience. Nowadays, life is only as valuable when rated by others or how many likes you receive. We refer to this as Reward Deficiency Syndrome, a neurobiologic phenomenon characterized by reward-seeking behavior and/or compulsive use due to up-regulation of dopamine receptors in the pleasure center of the brain.


JL: What about social media – how does that effect a teen’s mental health?

DG: Life off the screen is not as exciting as the fictional/virtual one created through technology. Teens are retraining their brain, creating a potential for desensitization to normal life’s pleasures, increased impulsive behavior and an intolerance of boredom. We call this Broadcast Intoxication, when life looks flat to them relative to what they see on the screen. There is also a theory called Facebook Syndrome, when people only post the positive, which creates an unrealistic illusion of living. We need to remember that there is more breadth and depth to people’s lives than what is seen on a post.


JL: What support can you give a parent overwhelmed with technology?

DG: Parents need to be conscious of their own screen time; we need to model mindful tech behavior for our children and be aware of our own technology usage. Kids watch their parents using technology just as much as parents watch them. We need to set clear expectations and monitor our children’s digital technology. Similar to how we want to know when our children physically are and with whom, we need to be aware of their activities online, what they look at and who they are interacting with.


“Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age,” Oct. 18, 7 – 8:30 p.m., at the JCC, 335 Bloomfield Ave., West Hartford. Admission is FREE. For more information and reservations: (860) 236-1927 x7129, www.jfshartford.org/screenagers. This program is co-sponsored by the JCC Family Room, Jewish Family Services (JFS) and Tara’s Closet.

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