All of the statistics and research we see tells us our kids are more depressed and anxious than ever. We know that video games, facebook, snapchat, and instagram have something to do with it, but what exactly is the relationtship, and what is a parent to do?
Our brains were not meant to be constantly stimulated, but that is just what technology is doing to our teens. I recently heard an explanation from from Christine Carter in a talk called Exploring Digital Addiction that summed it up quite nicely.
She describes the forms of technology children and teens engage in as stimulating their brain and releasing dopamine in the same way that sugar and drugs might release dopamine. For boys, she says video games provide the biggest hit of dopamine, for girls, who are more social, social networking tools usually supply this.
These hits of dopamine first bring pleasure in the same way that cocaine and heroin work, but just like drugs , over time kids needs more and more of it to provide pleasure, and unfortunately, other things don't provide pleasure in the same way. Tolerance builds up, and you begin to see a compulsive behavior towards the object you are addicted to ( video game, instagram, etc).
If you have ever tried to take away a child's phone you have seen this addiction in action. They may scream yell and become violent or otherwise unlike themselves.
But dopamine's actual function, she says, is to motivate towards a goal, not create pleasure. The synapses that transmit dopamine are responsible for other neurotransmitters as well, and they become overloaded, thus malfunctioning. Neurotransmitters and synapses implicated in feelings such as joy ,calm. Wellbeing and happiness are no longer functioning optimally when hijacked by the addiction process.
The explanation above gives a powerful description of the danger of technology to the developing brain of a teenager. In essence when we give a child unlimited access to technology, as many parents do, we are giving them an unlimited supply of cocaine! The problem is not that we are bad parents, but that most of us don't understand this. Surely few parents would give their child unlimited access to cocaine. But look around at how many parents give their child unlimited access to technology.
Carter says that it’s important to remember that as a parent you are not your child's friend. It is our responsibly to set strict limits on what and how much technology children and teens can consume.
Know that it will be difficult and children won’t like it. She suggests not relying on willpower, because it isn't there. Setting up external controls is the way to manage it. Although there are ways to set such systems up, they may be flawed. There is a program called circle, which can help you monitor your router, and new programs are cropping up each day.
House rules about electronics can also be challenging to implement and monitor, but the payoff is that you will l have children who are more likely to be self directed, have better impulse control, and have higher self esteem. Children who have parents who set limits are overall better adjusted.
Some of these rules may include:
Carter, Christine. “Exploring Digital Addiction in Our Families.” Mindful Parenting in a Messy World, Michelle Gale, 2018, members.michellegale.com/conference/day-3/.
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