Why do kids get addicted to screens: Insights from research
The way screens captivate kids has led scientists to ask questions about why this happens. By combining knowledge from neuroscience and psychology, we're getting better at understanding why kids can get so into screens. Better understanding of the cause will help us resolve the digital pandemic at our hands better too. Let's dive into what researchers have discovered about the screen addiction.
Sensory Overload and Neural Activation
A cornerstone of screen appeal lies in the sensory overload they offer. Screens present a dynamic canvas of colors, movements, and sounds that captivate young minds. Research conducted by Kühn and Gallinat (2014) using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) highlighted that these visual and auditory stimuli lead to heightened brain activation in children. Kids' growing brain connections are really good at reacting to these exciting things, making screens super interesting for them. It is also important to note that most of neural connections, language capabilities and basis for higher cognitive function are made in infant/toddler phase. Research indicates that the overstimulation caused by screens may interfere with the brain's natural growth processes, potentially impacting cognitive and emotional development.
Instant Gratification and Dopamine Release
The swift rewards offered by screens align with children's penchant for immediate gratification. This is similar to them wanting one candy now as compared to two later. A seminal study by Dunckley (2011) revealed that screen exposure stimulates the release of dopamine, often referred to as the "feel-good" neurotransmitter. This phenomenon is similar to the reward pathways triggered by pleasurable experiences. The rapidity of this reward cycle forms a crucial element in the addictive nature of screens, as the brain continually seeks the pleasurable anticipation and subsequent dopamine surge associated with screen engagement. While dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward, its overactivation due to excessive screen use can lead to a range of negative consequences such as emotional dysregulation, disrupted sleep patterns, increase in tolerance to dopamine etc.
Storytelling and Emotional Connection
Children's screen addiction is often fueled by the emotional connection they form with screen content. Research by Valkenburg et al. (2013) delves into the impact of storytelling on young minds. Emotional narratives, relatable characters, and engaging storylines trigger the brain's limbic system, which processes emotions. This emotional engagement deepens the child's attachment to screen content, making it challenging for them to detach from the captivating stories and characters they encounter.
Although at the face of it making emotional connection with virtual characters does not sound harmful but it is quite damaging to child’s emotional development and leads to distortion of reality. They also tend to get stressed about what might have been happening to their favorite characters when they are not watching them resulting in psychological distress.
Parental Modeling and Influence
Parents play a pivotal role in shaping children's screen habits. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recognizes that children observe and internalize their parents' behavior. Research by Radesky et al. (2016) suggests that when parents resort to screens as a means of distraction or convenience, children perceive this behavior as normative. Consequently, children are more likely to replicate and internalize these habits, further entrenching their screen addiction.
Limited Self-Regulation and Developing Prefrontal Cortex
Children's struggle with screen addiction is also linked to their developing prefrontal cortex. Casey et al. (2008) emphasize the role of the prefrontal cortex in impulse control and decision-making. This area of the brain matures gradually, leaving children with limited self-regulation abilities. As a result, they find it challenging to moderate their screen time independently, further exacerbating the addictive nature of screens. Parents and caregivers role play pivotal role here to regulate the screen time.
The confluence of scientific insights and empirical research deepens our understanding of kids' screen addiction. Hopefully this knowledge will empower parents, caregivers, and educators to forge a balanced approach to screen engagement, fostering healthy development in the digital age. We will share practical tips and scientifically proven methods to get rid of the addiction or to engage kids in meaningful activities that do not involve screens.
It's crucial to note that many experts and psychologists have been actively involved in designing TVs and devices to be addictive, primarily to boost profits. Our mission revolves around harnessing similar expertise and insights to curtail excessive digital exposure. We aim to equip our children with practical learning techniques applicable in real life, introduce them to tools fostering constructive brain connections, and nurture habits that cultivate the genius potential within them, aligning with their true capabilities.