CamdenNewJournal

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Children’s brains ‘hijacked’ by phones and apps, warns leading psychotherapist

'You can actually predict Facebook use in a child by looking at a brain scan'

12 March, 2019 — By Tom Foot

Dr Graham Music: ‘Shocking cuts’

ONE of the world’s leading experts on children’s brains says that tech addiction is thriving because of cuts to mental health services.

Dr Graham Music – described as “probably the most deep-thinking child psychotherapist in the world” – has said children who are “emotionally deprived, and less happy, are most vulnerable” to becoming hooked on phones, apps and the online world.

If a child feels afraid or in danger, at home or at school, they can start reacting more “impulsively” and be drawn to “superficial interactions” – such as comments on the clothes people are wearing or what has been posted on Instagram, he said.

Dr Music was talking to the New Journal after publishing a new book based on his 30-year career as a consultant at the Tavistock Centre, in Swiss Cottage. He said that a “shocking set of cuts in child mental health services” meant children were not getting the help they need and could often be misdiagnosed with conditions such as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

Dr Music said mobile phone apps and addictive internet technologies were feeding on this void, working in a similar way to hard drugs.

He warned that apps were designed to “hijack” a system in the brain that normally drives a person on to “seek out food, sex and pleasure”.

“Technology is brilliant at keeping us online,” he said. “I’ve known of children who set alarms in the night, to get up and edit photos. Children are flicking all the time. It is a jumping mentality. All this stuff inhibits ability to be still, concentrate and attend.”

He added: “Children who use this stuff a lot have a more activated part of the brain – a part of the brain literally gets bigger. You can actually predict Facebook use in a child by looking at a brain scan.”

Dr Music’s book, Nurturing Minds, aims to “reclaim the importance of good relationships” and show how “a safe social context” can calm a child’s nervous system.

It says parents can help develop a part of a child’s brain that will lead them to better reflect on themselves, feel empathy and regulate their emotions in later life.

Dr Music said: “A lot of problems start with parents believing they are not important to their kids any more – that they are impossible to get through to. “But that determination from them to be independent needs to be taken at face value. Even if they reject you, they need you.”

He said that the political ideology of neo-liberalism had “broken up communities” and led to parents not having the time or mental space “to pay attention to their children”. His work looks at the impact that living in “rundown areas with more boarded-up shops” has on a young person’s brain, sometimes leading to “more risk-taking, drug use and higher testosterone in young males”.

Dr Music, whose description as the world’s most deep-thinking psychotherapist came from the Anna Freud Centre’s chief executive, said there was a need to “step back” from looking at psychological issues in children as if they were physical illnesses, and understand them as a reaction to social circumstances.

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