Many parents struggle with helping their children to successfully navigate the use of mobile phones and other electronic devices. This week I am pleased to include an article from Dan Hardie, from My Strengths that really helps to unpack the reasons behind why young people are seemingly addicted to their mobile phones. I encourage you to read this article and remind all parents that for 2023 ERC is offering unlimited access for ALL families to MyStrengths Parenting courses, usually valued at $67 per course.
- Raising Resilience – 10-essential steps for raising positive teens
- Family Feuds – Your guide to solving friction, fights and feuds
- Anxious Thoughts – 3 keys to overcoming anxious thoughts
- NO Regrets – How to help teens make better decisions
Please use this link to register for access to these courses. The article below is an extract from the Family Feuds course for those that are interested in learning more.
Why Is Screen Time so Addictive for a Teenage Brain? Dan Hardie
Many parents are noticing that after a period of screen time, teens are often irritable and moody and short tempered.
Kristy Goodwin, a researcher into the effects of technology on a child’s brain, says that whenever we do anything pleasurable with technology (whether it’s watching funny cat videos or looking through endless feeds on Instagram) our brain releases the feel-good neurotransmitter, dopamine. Our brains naturally want more and more of this feel-good state, and so we crave more use of technology.
The digital world offers continual sensory seduction. Their mind is constantly stimulated, automatically fed the next game or photo or video. Even after hours, their desire for novelty is easily and constantly met in an online world.
Dr Godwin reflects that our kids are reluctant to turn off technology because it will mean terminating their supply of dopamine. We try to rationalise with them, apply logic about how many hours they’ve been on it, or what a waste of time it is. But their brain isn’t capable of “rational” for at least 20 minutes as it comes down from the adrenaline and dopamine injection. Their response is often more pronounced if they’re playing video games where another part of the brain is engaged in the desire for progress, mastery and the enticement of reward. It’s the perfect formula for a teen-sized tantrum. And many of us battle it daily.
How do most of us handle the screen come-down?
- We just don’t bother having the battle, and let nature take its course – do what you like, why should I fight it. Just make sure you get your homework done.
- Or, we go the other way and come in heavy, “Right, that’s enough. Off it now. Hey, I told you to get off it. If you don’t turn it off now, you’ll be…”
And probably for most of us, we do a combination of 1 & 2 depending how much energy we have for the fight.
The problem with option #1 is that screen time is often replacing other healthy activities – like school work, social interaction, exercise and especially sleep. And some research says it’s not that good for their mental health – where it can trigger depression, isolation and withdrawal.
80% of teens say they are on screens “Many Hours Per Day”
Do you want a shocking stat? A survey of over 20,000 Australian teens found that 80% of them are on some kind of social media many hours per day, with some teens up to 6 hours per day!
But many parents feel that leaving them to their own devices is the lesser of two evils, where the battle for boundaries and enforcing rules creates so much turmoil and tension, that it’s just not worth it.
Jane told me,
“Dan, I’m tired of the battle. Sometimes, I’m up for the fight and go in multiple times before threatening to take the phone off him, or worse, turn the internet off. But it just wears me down.”
I’m not going to pretend to have a silver bullet or magic formula for making this easy. We live in a society where it’s normal for even functioning adults to blow hours per day on the screen. Managing the whole thing requires some very intentional steps and preparation BEFORE the screen time even begins. In fact, with teens, the solution starts with our ability to negotiate with a young person who wants to be treated as an adult.
HOW TO CREATE SCREEN TIME BOUNDARIES
1. Ask your teen what they think the rules should be about the screen.
It’s amazing how mature teens can be when consulted. Most of them want to be heard and understood. They want a choice, and to think for themselves. If they can come up with their own ideas of what are healthy values and rules, then you’re far more likely to see them conform than if you just mandate your own set. In the “Family Feuds Course“, I’ve provided a worksheet that will help you to ask your teen for their own answers on:
- How much screen time do you think is good, beneficial, & healthy each day?
- What time should be screen-off time?
- Are there any family habits you think we should all agree to around screens?
- What are the Benefits/Downside of lots of screentime
Now sure, they might try to avoid the discussion by saying, “I dunno. Whatever I feel like on the day. I don’t want to have this talk. But it’s worth telling them WHY this conversation is important, and that it’s not about rules for them but the values you want as a family!
2. Agree to a set of family rules
Most parents make the mistake of creating a set of rules for “you” but a different set for me. If teens hear you say that they should get off screens but then see you browsing for hours before bed, they will almost always turn it back on you. In your family conversation, tell them that you too need help with your own screen time – that it’s not just rules for you and your siblings, it’s for all of us. After all, values are caught, not taught.
3. Provide alternative options to screen time
Most of us default to screens because we’re tired and out of ideas. It’s easy to flop down and play a game, read some online stuff or flick. And our kids do the same. It’s harder to pull out a set of cards, or take a walk together, or plan regular activities. But without compelling alternatives, the screen will always be an easy default.
In the end, teens need to know that social media companies benefit from every hour they sow into that space. They want you to be addicted. They create systems to keep you on their platform. They provided teasers of the next video before your current one is even finished. They embed cognitive rewards for clicking and returning. They are smart. And we follow like sheep. It’s time to take power back from the media companies who make money from every hour you are hooked into their system.
You want control over your own life, so start the conversation.
Director of Pastoral Care & Wellbeing