The rapid increase of smartphone usage and screen time and concern with technology addiction has led to a new field of research and an ongoing debate about parental control and screen time limits.

Plenty of research suggests that technology is addicting and that parents should limit screen time for their children. But, until recently, most research has been anecdotal and subject to debate.

In a new study, funded by the U.S. government, researchers at the National Institute of Health (NIH) might just have the resources they need to get some real, measurable answers to these nail-biting questions:

- Are our smartphones really addicting?
- How is screen time affecting child development?
- How much screen time is too much?

This is extremely important because, on a scale of one to ten, we know nothing to very little about technology addiction. Common Sense Media published a report on technology addiction in 2016 basically concluding that we have way more questions than answers.

According to Common Sense Media, excessive screen time and technology usage has been linked to anxiety and depression. However, it’s not clear whether people with underlying anxiety and depression are simply more likely to use their phones.

In the same report, they also expressed their surprise at the lack of research regarding the effects of technology and screen time on children. Most of the research “is helpful in giving a snapshot on young people’s lives in the digital age, but doesn’t allow researchers to draw conclusions about cause.”

It’s also important to note that the World Health Organization hasn’t declared technology or screen time addiction a mental illness. However, they do recognize “gaming disorder” as a diagnosable condition. Will “technology addiction” join “gaming disorder” on the mental illness list?

The U.S. government is determined to get to the bottom of it. According to a new report from 60 minutes, the federal government has just launched a $300 million longitudinal study through the National Institute of Health that 60 minutes calls “the most ambitious study of adolescent brain development ever attempted.” Here’s what $300 million will be used to do:

For the next decade, researchers will follow 11,000 kids between nine and ten years old, scanning their brains to assess how screen time (mobile apps and video games) impacts both their brain development and mental health. As the children lie in an MRI, a screen will show them images from their Instagram accounts. Meanwhile, the scanner will measure responses in the brain like spikes in dopamine – a chemical commonly associated with addiction.

Although the NIH has yet to publish concrete data, they have already released some key findings to the media. This is what we know so far:

1. Children who exceed 7 hours of daily screen time demonstrate a premature thinning of the prefrontal cortex.
2. Children who spend more than 2 hours a day on any screen received lower scores on language and thinking tests.

These are significant findings, but researchers still have a lot of work to do before they come to any conclusions. In her interview with Anderson Cooper on 60 minutes, Dr. Gaya Downing of the NIH shared some insight on just how little they currently know, and just how much they’re hoping to find out.

“We don’t know if it’s being caused by the screen time. We don’t know yet if it’s a bad thing. It won’t be until we follow them over time that we will see if there are outcomes that are associated with the differences that we’re seeing in this single snapshot,” said Dr. Downing.

But, will we actually find out if screen time is addicting? Anderson Cooper asked this exact question in his interview with Dr. Downing. She said that by the end of the study, researchers are hoping to be able to say whether or not screen time is actually addictive.

This means that it’s very possible that within the next ten years, “screen time addiction” joins “gaming disorder” on the list of diagnosable conditions.

This provokes some thought about treatment options. Imagine spending a couple weeks in a rehabilitation center with absolutely no screens. Could you do it? If your answer is no, maybe you’re addicted.

Author's Bio: 

Kelly Cappello works as a content marketer for Ertheo Education & Sports ( where she shares information and advice to help young athletes reach their full potential as both athletes and scholars.