Turning off the Digital Vortex – It’s a Brain Chemistry Thing
Have you ever wondered why your kid has a major melt-down when it is time to turn off the digital device? It’s a brain chemistry thing! An article by Michael Evans on the negative effects that too much screen time can have on a child’s well-being and how you can minimize those melt-downs had some interesting scientific information in it.
Science has proven again and again how digital screens, the specific types of light they emit, and the content our kids consume on them, can be highly addictive and have negative impacts on behavior, learning, mental health, and sleep.
A big part of this is the way they stimulate the brain’s production of the happy chemical, dopamine, and the careful way it balances the cortisol (a stress chemical) that is created in response to the carefully timed stressors in the games and videos.
Media companies spend BILLIONS trying to increase these effects to hook us to play the games over and over again, moving up to new levels and creating new patches which means the more the media companies can sell us.
When you try to take away the screen, the dopamine levels in our children’s brains crash, leaving behind heightened levels of cortisol.
This combo leads to some pretty major meltdowns. Let the battle commence, right?
Now you know.
So, how do you minimize the melt downs? It’s not enough to take away the screen. In our progressively more digital world that we are living in, especially with virtual schooling, there is a chance that valuable information and learning can be missed. We have to teach our children how to use technology responsibly and the dangers of technologies misuse by setting healthy examples and guidelines.
Knowing the scientific brain chemistry of the melt-downs can help you find healthy ways to minimize the addiction loop between dopamine and cortisol. Knowledge of how our brain responds to certain activities to produce neurotransmitters can help us balance some of the negative reactions, such as the temper tantrum we might expect from taking away a child’s device, as in the example above.
We know that dopamine is a highly addictive, though generally positive brain chemical, and that it balances the stress hormone cortisol. We also know that dopamine tends to be short-lived, leaving kids to deal with emotions they may not have been prepared to express in a healthy way.
To minimize those melt-downs, we can substitute another of the brain’s chemicals to help even things out.
Endorphins, for example, are created through physical activity, amongst other things. This feel-good chemical is a major element of workout euphoria, or the runner’s high. It also helps flush cortisol very effectively.
Working activity breaks into your child’s playtime or viewing time can go a long way toward avoiding the dopamine dump by adding a long-lasting boost of endorphins to the mix, plus it helps the kids get the exercise they need to stay healthy and fit.
A good example would be doing 10 jumping jacks between each level of gameplay, or earning 15 minutes of screen time with 15 minutes of outdoor activity (and who knows, once they’re outside playing, they may not remember to come to claim their screens), or even enrolling your child in a structured movement activity, such as martial arts. As triple whammy would include playing with friends, as the social interaction will stimulate the production of yet another positive neurotransmitter: Oxytocin.
Of course, there are a lot of parenting tools you can use to help your kids build a healthy relationship with technology, but leveraging their own minds to help bolster your efforts can be a powerful addition to the toolbox.