iPads Work Like Sedatives to Calm Children

ipad sedative children operation
A 10-year-old boy uses an Apple iPad tablet computer in the U.K. on November 29, 2011. New research suggests the tablet computer is as effective as a sedative at calming children before an operation. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

iPads have been described as "digital heroin" and "electronic cocaine" by neuroscientists researching addiction but a new study suggests the tablets can also have a positive effect on children's brains.

At the annual World Congress of Anaesthesiologists taking place in Hong Kong this week, French scientists will present research that shows how iPads can be as effective as sedatives for children before operations.

Anxiety levels of both parents and children aged 4 to 10 years old were measured before and after the operation. Results showed that allowing children to use iPads to distract them before surgery requiring general anaesthesia is as effective at lowering their anxiety as conventional sedatives.

Furthermore, satisfaction levels for parents with children using iPads was improved, while anxiety levels were also lowered.

"Our study showed that child and parental anxiety before anaesthesia are equally blunted by [the sedative] midazolam or use of the iPad," said Dominique Chassard, who headed the study. "However, the quality of induction of anaesthesia, as well as parental satisfaction, were judged better in the iPad group.

Clinical studies on tech addiction have previously found that computer, smartphone and tablet screens can increase depression, anxiety and aggression in children.

Nicholas Kardaras, a former clinical professor and author of Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids, says screen technologies have been referred to as "digital pharmakeia" for the effect they can have on the brain.

Writing in The New York Post last week, Kardaras described iPads, smartphones and Xboxes as a form of digital drug.

"Recent brain imaging research is showing that they affect the brain's frontal cortex—which controls executive functioning, including impulse control—in exactly the same way that cocaine does," Kardaras said. "Technology is so hyper-arousing that it raises dopamine levels—the feel-good neurotransmitter most involved in the addiction dynamic—as much as sex."