By Arlene Pellicane
Today’s child is surrounded by tablets, flat screen TVs, mobile phones, and computers. When a child watches TV, shops for toys online, or plays a video game, the neurotransmitter dopamine carries a signal of pleasure to the brain.
Your daughter feels good while she’s watching television. But as children are amused more and more each day, the payoff diminishes. The video game that was awesome last month is now passé. Dr. Archibald Hart and Dr. Sylvia Hart Frejd write in their book, The Digital Invasion,
Many of our Internet behaviors, such as gambling or gaming on the Internet, or even Facebooking, can do as much damage to the pleasure center as any powerful drug. The pleasure center can become so flooded that only the ‘big’ stimulants can get a message to the pleasure center. Little, ordinary pleasures are ignored because they do not have the power to overcome the flooding…What this all means is that the thrills of our digital world, if abused, can be as addicting as any drug and rob you of the simple joys of life.
You would never dream of handing your child drugs or alcohol. Yet most parents hand over a tablet or phone to a child without much thought. We fail to understand the addictive nature of screens.
In a national study of American youths, psychologists found nearly one in 10 of the gamers (8.5 percent) to be addicted, meaning that playing video games was causing damage in their lives. Some young people today are flunking out of college because instead of going to class, they are playing video games in their dorm rooms.
Adam Alter writes in his book Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, once a cucumber brain has become pickled, it can never go back to being a cucumber. In other words, if a child’s brain gets hooked on video games, he or she will always battle those addictions.
When Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad in January 2010, he touted the iPad was an extraordinary way to browse the web, listen to music, look at photos, play games, and navigate thousands of apps. He encouraged everyone to get an iPad, but get this, he didn’t let his own kids use the device.
When interviewed by the New York Times later that year, he said his children had never used the iPad. I believe he limited technology use in his own home because he understood firsthand the addictive danger of having an iPad readily and constantly available. The pickled brain can’t go back to being a cucumber.
What kind of society will the screen-driven children of today create tomorrow? I’m afraid what Neil Postman predicted in Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business has already come to pass. In the 1980s he wrote, “Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas, they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities, and commercials.”
Doesn’t that sound familiar? You see the negative effects on our culture when we exalt entertainment over reason and character. So why do we as parents tolerate – and sometimes fuel – our children’s love affair with technology and entertainment?
Let’s be honest. We fall into the amusement trap because it keeps our children quiet and out of the way. It gives you time to make dinner, to have an uninterrupted conversation with your spouse, to catch up on email, or to watch your favorite show.
You see screens popping up in restaurants now, not just being held by the customers, but bolted to the tables. I’ve heard many parents voice their approval because as their kids play with the screen provided on the table, it gives them time to talk.
But wait? Is it healthy for kids to be entertained all the time? Kids ride from one wave of excitement to the next. Classrooms are providing iPads to improve learning. Minivans are movie theatres. Restaurants are “eat and play” spaces. Most homes in America have five to ten screens to choose from.
Remember the principle from Proverbs? Too much honey is not good for any of us. Constant mental candy will stunt your child’s growth.
But there’s much more to worry about than digital junk food. It’s hard to know what exactly your child is watching on her phone or tablet. Content may be violent, inappropriate, and completely at odds with your values. Your child isn’t likely to commit a crime after hours of playing violent video games, but do you really want him spending time pretending to punch, shoot, stab, or club opponents?
Parents, we must rise.
In this increasingly screen-driven world, your child’s brain is being rewired by the Internet. The instant gratification of text messaging, Google searches, and Amazon products arriving the next day is training your child to expect quick answers to life’s questions. But that’s not how real life works.
Your child’s brain doesn’t function best with a constant drip of dopamine. Get your kids off the roller coaster of hourly entertainment. Providing amusement for your child should not be a main part of your job description. Make a radical commitment instead: I will not allow my child to be addicted to any device while they are living under my roof.
Taken from Parents Rising: 8 Strategies for Raising Kids Who Love God, Respect Authority, and Vape What’s Right by Arlene Pellicane (©2018). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.
- What Technology Drives Generation Z?
- Using Technology Wisely
- iFaith: How Religion and Technology Coexist in a Digital Age
ARLENE PELLICANE (@ArlenePellicane) is a wife, mother of three, speaker, and author of several books on marriage and family.