Why Children Craving Screen Time

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If iPads, smartphones, and screens appear to be drugs for children, it is because they have many similarities with stimulants when it comes to the developing brain of a child. Screen time, sugar, and rewards all flood children’s brains with dopamine, the same feel-good chemical that is released when people use cocaine or see an Instagram like. As scientists grapple with the biological consequences and causes of digital actions, dopamine feedback loops are becoming a subject of increasing concern. Dopamine is addictive in the strictest sense of the word Not precisely Without inducing a biological need, dopamine drives and strengthens habits. But habits matter, particularly for children.
Scientists cannot definitively assert that increased dopamine absorption during childhood increases the likelihood of substance abuse in adulthood. However, psychologists are discovering that the dopamine from screens impairs children’s impulse control, increases their desire for instant gratification, and causes more children to attempt to swipe real photographs and punch books as if they were touch-screens.
This is the reason why screens and electronic devices have the potential to keep children in a chronic state of hyperarousal, leaving them agitated yet exhausted. This elevated state makes it more difficult for children to retain information, perform well in school, interact socially, form relationships with others, self-soothe, and regulate their emotions. This is not only a result of the reward center of the brain being overstimulated in response to screens, but also of other important areas of their developing brains being underutilized, according to psychologist and author of Deviced! Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital Age Doreen Dodgen-Magee.
She states that the brain operates on a “use it or lose it” basis. Unless we intentionally create opportunities for focus, delay of gratification, and boredom, the portions of the brain that regulate these functions may exhibit less robust or even diminished function.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that functions by moving between synapses and neurons in various parts of the brain that regulate when and how people eat, sleep, move, learn, and maintain attention. When people are triggered by external stimuli, such as Paw Patrol or methamphetamine, dopamine is released into the reward system via neural pathways. This indicates what a person is doing that feels good, and they should do more of it.
There is abundant evidence that screens cause the release of dopamine, which eventually erodes these neural pathways and increases the brain’s need for stimulation.
Genes also influence how individuals respond to dopamine. For example, research indicates that children with the dopamine D4 receptor 7-repeat allele are more susceptible to ADHD, childhood aggression, and other behavioral issues. In general, the influx of dopamine children experience from screens strains the brain’s reward system before it is fully developed. This indicates that their brains crave more dopamine while producing less dopamine naturally to self-regulate the surge, which may make it more difficult to experience happiness from natural causes.
Screen time causes the release of dopamine. This means that the more time your child spends in front of a screen, the more addicted he or she will become to screen time, explains family therapist Katie Ziskind. Ziskind, an expert in digital detoxification, suggests that parents think of it as candy. It is impossible to completely shield children from it, but that does not mean it has any value for them. Create and teach healthy screen time boundaries. It cannot be used as a reward.
In extreme cases, the screen-based dopamine feedback loop can result in behavioral issues that can only be treated through a digital detox. Dodgen-Magee and Ziskind concur that proactive prevention is the best strategy for parents, and that the most effective way to implement this strategy is to model healthy smartphone and screen habits. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization’s recommendations for their age group, set and adhere to limits for the amount of time you look at your phone and the amount of time your child watches a tablet or television. And if your child watches something, try to watch it alongside them and discuss it. This will engage the other important parts of their brain, and it may lead to the development of intriguing Peppa Pig theories.
To further dopamine-proof your child, prioritize outdoor play, physical activity, and nature interaction, which can reduce behavioral issues and promote healthy growth. And under no circumstances should screen time be used as a reward. Their brains will accomplish this regardless.
Doreen Dodgen-Magee asserts that our children’s over-familiarity with overstimulation is a result of the routine use of electronic devices, and that they have underdeveloped essential skills for long-term success. However, it is always simpler to establish healthy norms than to break unhealthy ones.
This article was first published on March 5, 2019.

Summary

Research shows that children’s brains respond the same way to screen time as people respond to cocaine, and this has important implications for their brain development. Experts explain what parents need to know.

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