Parenting in the Era of Addictive Electronics

I feel your pain. As a mom to a couple of kids in college and three tweens, I’ve found that video games, social media, and smartphones have made parenting harder than ever. With my younger three kids, I’m having to make new rules and navigate a landscape that wasn’t a threat to my older children.

The evidence is mounting that screen time and electronics function like hard drugs for our kids. According to Dr. Victoria L. Dunckley, “screen time—particularly the interactive kind—acts like a stimulant, not unlike caffeine, amphetamines, or cocaine.” The dopamine released by the stimulation of electronics hits children especially virulently because their cerebral cortexes simply aren’t developed enough for them to feel satisfied with small doses or to self-regulate.

“It’s not realistic to expect the brain to adapt to intense and artificial stimulation it was never meant to handle,” Dunckley adds. “It’s also not realistic to expect a child with still-developing frontal lobe to control their screen-time, whether that means managing how long they play a game, how they use or misuse social media, or how they behave afterward.”

Although the data is still emerging, it’s obvious that our kids’ addiction is correlated with higher rates of obesity, less time spent reading, less self-directed imaginative play, and less face-to-face social interaction.

There’s no point in dredging up the sordid details of the dangers of social media and the potential for cyberbullying; clearly, our kids face a brave new world when it comes to their daily reality. I’ve watched my fun-loving, intellectually engaged tweens become crabby zombies when I give in to their addiction.

It’s painful for me to acknowledge that my older kids read more, played outside more, and weren’t myopically focused on getting their next fix.

I know I’m not alone when I say that screens, phones, and electronics have made parenting a much more onerous task than it was 10 years ago. Many parents are experimenting with a variety of techniques to manage their kids’ use of electronics, such as parental controls to block inappropriate content, with varying success. But the struggle is real, and we need to help each other navigate the electronic candy store that threatens our children’s well-being.

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