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screen time

Dopamine in Children?

You just switched off the TV or took away the iPad from your child sitting in front of the screen for hours. Now, the child is throwing a tantrum and is not willing to budge. In fact, it almost seems like the child’s life depends on it. Sounds like a familiar story, right?

In the digital era, when screens have become an inevitable part of you and your child’s life, it is extremely difficult being a parent. What further adds to the issue is that the impact of extensive screen time is significant and can be observed in your child’s behavior. As any parent, even you would like to ensure that your child has a healthy lifestyle and a good balance of screen-oriented and non-screen-oriented activities. But how does one go about it?

Well, this article delves into the neuroscience behind screens, their relationship with your children, and their dopamine levels. With this, you will have a scientific approach toward reducing screen time and ensuring that your child has healthy levels of dopamine that don’t hinder their mental growth.

What is Dopamine? How is It Related to Screens?

Dopamine is a chemical that is essential for your bodily functions. As Marwa Azab, an adjunct professor of psychology at California State University, rightly said, “If we don’t have dopamine, we die.” We all have a baseline amount of dopamine in our bodies, and more is released when our minds are exposed to certain activities, such as watching TV and playing video games. These act as stimuli for the release of the chemical.

In several contexts, dopamine is referred to as a happiness hormone, which is false. It is a “want” hormone. The more it is released due to a specific stimulus, the more your mind thinks that it needs the stimulus. For children, this stimulus can be in the form of TVs, iPads, video games, and more.
How Does Screen Modify the Dopamine Levels in Children?
The baseline dopamine is quite high in several cases where children have been accustomed to hours of screen time. As a result, when you switch off the TV or take away the iPad, they act like their life depends on it. This is because, in their mind, the screen or the gadget is a need for survival. In some acute cases, the children face withdrawal, too. So, how does one solve it?

Anti-Dopamine Parenting

Although the name might be slightly misleading, the aim of anti-dopamine parenting is to create a balance of screen time and other activities for your children. Here are 5 simple steps you can practice to ensure your child’s brain is nurtured healthily.
Step 1: Identify the Problem
If your child’s face brightens up and dulls down based on when the screen turns on and off, it is time to have a conversation with them. Know that it’s not just about telling them off or reprimanding them for their actions. First, let them know that you understand them and then educate them about how they must bring small changes to their lifestyle.
Step 2: Have a Chat
Tell them you understand it’s painful and that you’re there for them. Tell them it might feel icky in the stomach, but it will be good for them in the long run. It is also important to highlight what the purpose behind your actions is. Instead of simply declining to do something or stopping your child from doing something, highlight what they should be moving towards or doing instead.
Step 3: Reduce Screen Time
Substitute the screen time with other activities. This can be outdoor games, board games, or even screen time with productive tools such as crosswords or learning videos. It should be a healthy mix of all these and more. For instance, Yvonne Golembeski, from San Jose, California, used to let her 5-year-old son watch a few episodes of a show before bed. This led to him acting like a ‘demon’ afterward. So she swapped it with storytime. While this is merely one example, you can always use techniques and activities your child has an affinity toward.
Step 4: Reduce Screens and Gadgets
If you reduce the number of screens and gadgets in your children’s vicinity, chances are they will be less likely to remember to use them. Without seeing them, their minds will move toward other things, such as games or playing with friends and spending quality time with their parents.
Step 5: Be Consistent
Set a schedule for your children and ensure they abide by it. If 30 minutes is the decided screen time, then 30 minutes should be the practiced boundary. This would not only help reduce the negative effects of screens but also inculcate a discipline that your children can imbibe even after they grow.

Overall, screens are inevitable, and your children will be exposed to them. However, from the beginning, you can teach your children to use them effectively for education and entertainment and hope that their mind is nurtured the right way.

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