“It’s digital meth!” Experts explain how you can break phone addiction in your home

RAPID CITY, S.D. — It would never happen to me, or my kid, right? The American Academy of Child Psychology says that American children spend six to nine hours per day on digital devices. On average, 113 minutes are spent on TikTok, with 90 on Snapchat. Hollie Strand, a Pennington County Sheriff’s Office forensic examiner, works on the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force and reports that the average age of exposure to pornography in America is five years old. Even the most well-behaved kids can’t completely control what gets sent to their phones, but Strand and other officials are encouraging parents to take control of the devices in their homes. Although the statistics are difficult for parents to digest, parents have the power to change the numbers and to keep their children safe.

“We see shift summaries where somebody found their daughter’s methamphetamines and the daughter attacks the mom, and then you see where you take away a device from a kid, and the kid attacks the mom….it’s digital meth,” Strand explains. She also mentioned the FBI’s reports of a significant rise in “sextortion” cases, where offenders in Nigeria and along the Ivory Coast solicit images from children and then manipulate the kids into sending them money, too. 

Strand explains that, even in a small town, the entire world is instantly accessible through digital devices. “When you give them a device, you’re saying ‘you have access to my kid 24 hours in their bedroom, in the bathroom, day or night’.” So, what can parents do to protect their kids? 

1) Be nosy

Some parents will tell us, I don’t want to invade my kids’ privacy, but in this day and age, it’s not about invading. It’s about keeping our kids safe,” Strand says. She explains that you can, and even should, regularly go through their phone. If parents find something concerning, she encourages them to have a conversation with their kids about it, and if necessary, even contact law enforcement if the activity is criminal in nature.

2) Learn how to use the apps

“Take Snapchat, for example. Snapchat has ‘my eyes only folder’,” explains Sgt. Jesse Fagerland, the School Resource Officer Supervisor and former investigator with the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s not easy to find if you’re not familiar with the application itself, and so a parent that is just going through the regular photos or the regular gallery is not going to find anything that the child is trying to hide.”

3) Be present with your kids

“Electronics have become a digital pacifier or digital babysitter,” Strand says. She adds that she often sees parents using devices to occupy their kids and that the kids get addicted to the dopamine that they get from activity online. “We have a lot of conversations at our house about getting our dopamine in the backyard, getting our dopamine on the trampoline, getting our dopamine by building. Go get the drill….go build something!”

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