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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Technology and Teen Brains

In today’s society we use technology on a daily basis. We have phones, iPads, e-readers, hand-held devices, TV’s, and computer screens. We use these things to organize, inform and simplify our lives. 

And we have armed our children with that same convenience and soothed ourselves with the thought that we can be in constant contact with them. But is technology affecting them in a way we have not considered?

We all know and even discuss how teens problem solve with the frontal lobe of their brain. Research shows that the frontal lobe is undergoing a huge amount of change during the teen and mid-twenties years and those changes affect decision making for those brains.

Do we know how technology affects those same developing frontal lobes?

Research in one particular area, “screen time” is beginning to emerge and it important that as parents we include this information into our parenting strategies.

The following research sums it up succinctly:
“In short, excessive screen-time appears to impair brain structure and function. Much of the damage occurs in the brain’s frontal lobe, which undergoes massive changes from puberty until the mid-twenties. Frontal lobe development, in turn, largely determines success in every area of life—from sense of well-being to academic or career success to relationship skills. Use this research to strengthen your own parental position on screen management, and to convince others to do the same.”


Realistically we can’t just take the devices away that we now use on a constant basis. But we can be responsible about how and when to use them and we can develop a strategy for determining how much is too much. 

"In an NPR article, Digital Overload: Your Brain on Gadgets, Matt Richtel asks the question,  'What is the line right now when we go from a kind of technology nourishment to a kind of stepping backwards, to a kind of distraction — where instead of informing us, [technology] distracts us and impedes our productivity? There's growing evidence that that line is closer than we've imagined or acknowledged.

'He points to one study conducted at Stanford University, which showed that heavy multimedia users have trouble filtering out irrelevant information — and trouble focusing on tasks. Other research, he says, says that heavy video game playing may release dopamine, which is thought to be involved with addictive behaviors.

'When you check your information, when you get a buzz in your pocket, when you get a ring — you get what they call a dopamine squirt. You get a little rush of adrenaline," he says. "Well, guess what happens in its absence? You feel bored. You're conditioned by a neurological response: 'Check me check me check me check me.'

“Richtel says that research is ongoing, particularly into how heavy technology may fundamentally alter the frontal lobe during childhood, how addictive behavior can lead to poor decision-making and how the brain is rewired when it is constantly inundated with new information.”

We already know how the brain reacts when it becomes addicted to dopamine “squirts,”—it needs more. I posit that many of us are becoming dopamine junkies and we are offering up our children to be the same. 

Do we understand that we are creating addicts when we demand extended usage of electronic devices for school usage and then homework and video game play or social media interaction? 

As parents, it is our responsibility to implement solutions that allow our children a healthy life that has reasonable limits on electronics and screen time. 

1.      We must be vigilant in building into daily structure a “no interruption time” so they can focus on homework, reading/creative play, relaxation and physical activity.
2.      We need to have a serious discussion with our children on how interruptions affect their learning.
3.      Limit social media and/or game play. When we see our teens being more combative or secretive with regard to screen time, we need to adjust those limitations.
4.      Talk about dopamine “squirts” with your adolescent. Be honest and say that while we are on the cutting edge of technology, we don’t yet know all the implications of what that means for our brains.

Most likely if you’re a parent of a real live teen, you’ll have to repeat yourself on this topic. Take solace in that if you repeat it, you are doing it right.
So how can we increase our chances of being successful with this endeavor?

Implement it with ourselves first. Actions have always spoken louder than words.