December 2, 2018
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I did not put the Facebook app on my iPhone. Why? As a counselor who has some information on how we are wired as human beings, I don’t want to get hooked. Overexposure to screens—whether video games, Facebook, or pornographic images—can affect the same pleasure center in our brains that interacts with powerful drugs like heroin or nicotine. Clearly, heroin use comes with many more complications, but the neurobiology is similar. It’s not really a stretch to imagine social media taking people on an exhausting ride through highs and lows based on who likes their posts, who unfriends them or who writes what on whose wall. Overstimulating the brain’s reward system can burn out our natural reward system down the road and contribute to symptoms of depression. This pattern is consistent with the brain biology of addiction.
Another more practical definition of addiction would be a habit that interferes with optimal functioning. So how do we know where to draw the line with our love of screens? What is too much? How do we determine optimal functioning? I suppose grades, gainful employment, and feeling connected to other human beings without a screen as your mode of communication might be some criteria to use.
So, if adults have enough trouble putting down their phones and going to the gym, how do parents approach the subject of screen time with their children? I work with many families and children who struggle with how to regulate screen time.
So, what is cool about these screens? There is an app that is teaching my daughter Spanish. There are brain teaser video games that make us think. There are movies and tv shows that make us laugh. So how do we keep ourselves and our kids from getting too addicted to the absolutely awesome world of screens?
We make a schedule about screen time. We make rules. For example: Nice out? Go outside until such and such time then you can watch a show. Do your homework first and after I check it and if it’s done well, you can play that game on the Kindle. No texting your friends while you do your homework. The Ipod does not go in your room at bedtime.
The most important part of enforcing these rules for your children is that as adults, we must be willing to place some boundaries and restrictions on ourselves. As a therapist, I have seen adults check their phones in session while going on rants about how their child is addicted to video games. If you are this kind of parent, please adjust accordingly.
So, for the sake of your health and your family’s health, take an inventory of your screen habits. And by all means, do not go too far in a restrictive direction. There are enormous benefits to using screens in healthy ways. They are here to stay and can be used to share experiences, to educate us, and to entertain us. Screens are so fun for most kids that I am completely on board with using “bonus screen time” as a motivational tool to get kids to improve on doing chores, or to give extra effort in school subjects with which they might be struggling. The goal is for us to try to find a balance and to use all these screens for as much good as we can. After all, the screen isn’t the problem. It’s the human who can’t seem to put it down for a while.