Recently we had the opportunity to share a presentation on social media and the brain. As parents, we strive to do what is best for our children, but with all the pandemic fatigue and battles, some of us are at a loss and feeling a struggle of “what battles are worth fighting?”
I feel it is important to note that the research on the impact of screens and the brain is just beginning. We know that screen time increases dopamine activity, which creates a joyous status in our brains-and when we take that away, we experience a crash or a “let down” feeling that other things may not be as fun.
Additionally, we know that social media especially engages the nucleus accumbens, which is also a part of our brain triggered when using slot machines. So think about that variable level of reinforcement that often leaves us craving and wanting more and never feeling fulfilled.
When we look at a child’s brain, we know that their frontal lobes don’t fully develop until they are in their 20’s-which is the part of our brain responsible for knowing consequences and balancing time management. It is important to note as parents that children cannot have judgment control with social media and screens, so it is extremely easy for them to get looped in or struggle to make healthy choices.
Safety, unfortunately, becomes a huge issue. At the practice, we are having an increase in children coming in contact with predators or inappropriate content because they can get around filters or have access to many devices or social media apps.
Some apps, such as discord or Roblox, are moderated, while others, like WhatsApp or Omegle, are not. Teens especially find it funny to engage in discussions with other people they do not know, and websites and apps that facilitate communication with strangers are becoming increasingly popular.
What can we truly do as parents? It does take knowing your child and being in tune with how much you want to manage. If you feel burnt out, pick your battles, maybe one device is enough for now, or you want to limit things to a family computer or iPad.
There are several monitoring sources, some of which can be accessed simply by contacting your phone provider, knowing that our children find ways to get around certain apps and protection. I personally like the user face of CIRCLE, which allows you to limit up to 11 devices and comes with family communication materials.
At the end of the day, the amount and level of gaming and screen time are personal choices. Each child struggles with their own level of impulse control and monitoring. I believe it is about being wise and educating ourselves on the risks and benefits, and being aware of what can happen. Often times we feel our children will be safe, and we close our minds to things but being aware and conscious are what often fulfills us as parents.
There is no shame in knowing that we need and often have no choice in today’s world to allow an increase in screens to our children. With the limits on socializing, the pandemic has put even the most conservative parent in a situation with increased screens.
Discuss the balance that looks right for your family with your partner and children, discuss the risks and healthy usage that is right for you. Educate yourself and your children; the more you communicate and engage your children in the discussion and balance, the more open they will be with you.