Every one of us is susceptible to getting addicted to social media, texting, email or Netflix.
And our kids are even more likely to get addicted, given the chance. They have even less awareness of what they're doing and certainly couldn't care less about the downsides of screen time!
I'm sure you've been there (or seen it in other families): the kids throw a fit when Mum or Dad make them turn off the video games or the TV. They're nagging every day for more movies, more gaming or more Youtube videos. And that's just the young kids - don't get me started on teenagers and their smart phones!
But I want us to stop beating ourselves up about this! It's not the kids' fault and it's not our fault we all tend towards getting addicted.
Want to know why?
Because there are some seriously powerful companies working hard and spending billions to help us get addicted. Thousands of software engineers are sitting in the funky offices of Google, Facebook, Apple and video game companies around the world this very minute dreaming up more ways for you to get addicted!
The last few months I've been living in San Francisco, the home of Silicon Valley, and I've met some of these engineers and marketers. Their sole purpose is to get you and your kids to spend more time and more money on their devices, apps and sites. And they use the science of addiction to make this happen.
So what exactly is going on when we get addicted to our screens?
The reason that we get addicted has everything to do with the hormone in the brain called dopamine. This is the pleasure-seeking hormone. When we search for something on the web, or scroll through our Facebook feed, dopamine is rushing through our brain making us keep seeking. And it feels good, this dopamine stuff!
In fact dopamine is more powerful than the feelings we get when we're rewarded with the funny cat video on Facebook or the text message from our best friend. So our brain wants more dopamine-induced fun and so we keep scrolling.
Of course there are plenty of feel-good hormones generated when we find a great TV show on Netflix or when our kids play an exciting video game. Add serotonin and adrenaline to the mix and you can see why we and the kids want more!
So should we try to stop this addiction?
Everything in moderation is the key here. If you can handle using Facebook without it becoming an addiction, then keep using it. But if you notice that it's intruding into your life with your kids then it's time to stop!
Do you repeatedly check social media, emails or text messages when you're with your kids? Then maybe it's time to cut back so you can give the kids your full attention.
Do you spend hours watching TV and neglect other things that are important to you like getting fit, starting your own business or bonding with your partner? Then cutting back on TV might be good.
The same goes for kids and teenagers - if they can handle watching some TV or Youtube videos without getting addicted then it's probably okay. But I honestly don't know many kids who don't ask for more and more once they get a taste for it! It then becomes a constant battle for the parents to hold the line and not give them more time on the screen.
If the battle over screen time is a problem in your household then read my blog here on how to resolve this with your kids.
But it's a different story when it comes to babies and toddlers!
The research is very clear about children under 2 years old. Screen time does not help their development and may actually impede it, for example by delaying them learning to speak. This is why the US and Australian government health authorities both recommend zero screen time for kids under 2.
Babies' growing brains need human interaction and real-life stimulation to develop key skills, particularly speech, eye sight, coordination and motor skills. Television does not provide this so every hour spent watching TV is an hour where the child is not developing these skills. TV and videos are also over-stimulating for a baby's immature senses.
So what do I do in my house about screens?
Having said all that, you may be curious about how much screen time I allow my 5 year old daughter to have - and therefore what I think is optimal! The answer is that she has zero screen time. She's never watched TV at home, never been to a movie, never watched Youtube videos. The only screen time she gets is looking at photos on my phone and Skype with her grandparents in the UK!
My husband and I figure she'll get more than enough exposure to screens when she goes to school. We'd prefer to save her childhood for pastimes that develop her skills and take her into nature. So she spends heaps of time doing craft, drawing, playing outside in the garden or going on adventures with her parents (when she's not at kindergarten)!
We also send her (currently) to a Steiner/Waldorf school which asks that kids not have any screen time, so that makes it easier. The other kids at school don't talk about TV shows and movies they've just seen!
Would you like to defeat the power of the companies who want you addicted to their device?!
If you recognise screen addiction in you or your kids, then I would love you to stand up to the powerful forces that are trying to keep you chained to your device!
Here are a few simple ways you can free yourself from the social media, TV or internet addiction:
- Delete the apps from your mobile phone that tend to hook you in e.g Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.
- Have a standard rule that you keep your phone in your bag. If you need to use it, put it back in your bag afterwards. If it's an effort to use it, then you'll use it less! Also stick to the rule of never taking your phone into the bedroom - that will avoid the checking-the-phone-on-waking habit!
- Get rid of any devices you can do without. If you don't have an ipad then the kids won't get addicted to the games on it. If you don't have multiple TVs then there will be less temptation to watch them.
- Only ever turn on the TV for a specific program that you've planned in advance. Don't turn it on just to flick and never turn it on in front of your kids (unless you've planned a program for them to watch).
- Try not to use your phone, ipad, computer or TV in front of your kids unless you really have to. They will model your behaviour and will want to use the same devices they see you using.
For more on handling your kids' addiction to screens and devices read my blog about this here.
This week (the first week of May) was Screen Free Week for Kids! So I wanted to celebrate it with this blog, and I've also been posting in the Feed the Parent Facebook group all about things to do with your kids that don't involve screens. Come on over and join us there - that is, unless you are having a Screen Free Week as well!