If your child is anything like mine, they gravitate to a screen like a moth to a flame. They click and scroll, watch and play, oblivious to everyone and everything. It evokes frustration, fear, and fury, and can lead to argument after argument.
Your child’s difficulty logging off is not their fault. And it’s not your fault either. Tech developers have capitalized on hard-wired aspects of the human brain to create platforms that are as addictive as possible. The human brain loves stimuli that create rewarding experiences. Each time the brain experiences something pleasurable, it releases a tiny shot of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that produces a pleasant, satisfying feeling. Then the brain craves the next experience that provides another shot of dopamine. When these rewarding moments come at unpredictable intervals, the brain is chronically left wanting more.
All media platforms have been created with this in mind. First, something calls your attention (a vibrating phone, an intriguing headline). When you click, you begin to seek a rewarding experience - connecting to others (texting, social media), social approval (likes), acquiring assets (online shopping, news, recipes), accomplishments (winning games), entertainment/relaxation (YouTube, Netflix), etc. These experiences happen at unpredictable times, which leaves you clicking the next link, playing the next level, and checking the next text. This is how our children get hooked. This is how we get hooked. Everyone is hooked not because we are weak or inept, but because we have human brains. And because the developers are really good at what they do!
Understanding the brain science behind screen time can begin to transform your relationship with your child in this area of home life. Generally, when we see our kids unable to put down the screens, we angrily pull the devices away or lecture them about the evils of tech. We approach the problem as if it’s only our kids who get hooked. This inadvertently communicates that we think they are too weak to fight the addictive nature of their devices and that we, as adults, do not suffer from the same malady. But our children see the truth - that we too are hooked. We may try to hide it, but they know that we can’t stop either. This discrepancy builds resentment, lack of trust and plays a critical role in screen time conflict in the home.
Instead, when we acknowledge we are all hooked, our children begin to trust us, which paves the way for us to help them manage their tech use. If we explain how the device is designed to interact with our brain to create an addictive pattern, we can all stop judging and start dealing with the real problem - how to unhook so that devices enhance our lives rather than control them. With this approach, we unite with rather than fight with our children. We can laugh about how we are all moths drawn to the flame with our screens, and then work together to learn how to navigate this tricky aspect of modern life.
So, the next time you see your child gripping their iPad as if their life depended on it, remember it is not their fault and they are not alone. Share with them a similar experience you have had. Then, discuss how the platform design has left them wanting more of some enticing variable reward. Together you can begin the critical exploration of how we can enjoy our screens without being controlled by them.
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About Beyond Limits Academy
Beyond Limits is a simple step-by-step online program that teaches parents how to prepare their children for a lifetime of safe and healthy technology use. Going beyond just screen time limits, our skills-based approach provides a clear road map that reduces conflict and sets children up to manage their own tech use independently and responsibly. In an increasingly digital world, preparing our children to use technology wisely is no longer an option. . . it's a necessity. Get started.