Parents controlling their children’s device use is admirable, but in many cases it’s futile. By doing so, parents are creating a situation that makes children want to sneak it. Having encountered students who would wake at 1 am, unlock the drawer that contained the device, and be found playing it under the covers, I can tell you there is a better way.
Empowering children with little bits of knowledge about how our brains work and how developers of devices and apps use this information to capture their attention and keep it will put children in control and will eliminate the need for parent helicoptering the devices.
Examining a few pieces of information about our brains and how they function is the place to start. Developers. advertisers, and politicians use what I am going to share to capture attention with the intention of engaging and maintaining it for as long as possible. Since ads for everything including new drugs are being thrown at our children daily, knowing the following secrets will help them recognize the strategies used and control their use and response to what they see and read on their devices. .
1. Fear is a the most powerful natural brain controller.
I have always wondered, “Why aren’t there “Good News Everyday” programs?” “Why don’t politicians and advertisers focus on the positives?”
Truth is, very few people will pay attention to good news. Igniting our primitive brain is very powerful in getting one’s attention because it overrides the logical brain. Fears of the flame that ignites the stress response related to the fight or flight. Whether the threat is a disease that can be cured by a drug, a politician we need to be afraid of, or not knowing what everyone else in school knows through social media, it all grabs our attention with a sense of urgency.
The role of the primitive brain is to recognize threats that affect our survival. To a teen, not knowing where the parties are going to be or who is dating who, or what is being said about them ignites the primitive brain. Once engaged, the primitive brain draws the blood away from the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that allows us to think logically). The blood flows to the extremities to promote the ability to get out of town quickly.
when the stress response is engaged, we can’t think about the fears logically. Helping students recognize that when they feel a threat on social media or in a game, their ability to logically process the information is limited.
To adults, the fear of a political figure who poses a threat can throw us into the stressed response. It’s subtle, but effective. Just observe commercials right now. They are riddled with the horrors that will occur if one or the other person is elected. During covid it was hospital beds. The stress was so high, that most people didn’t notice the ICU beds shown on TV in April were the same ones shown in August. I am student of propaganda strategies and could see it, but even my most logical friends couldn’t. Many are seeing it now, but their brains were blocked from observing logically while under such stress.
Having the awareness that our response to reading something disturbing will make it difficult to think rationally about it, will help students process what they see on their devices. If I read something negative posted about myself on line, my ability to reflect on it is limited. If I am aware that the stress response needs to be calmed with some deep breathing , then I am able control of how I respond to the comment.
2. Our brains are taking in information at a subconscious level at all times.
Helping children recognize that even if they don’t click on the ad, or pay attention to it, the information is going in at a subconscious level.
One of the most common drugs targeting children is ADD medication. It can pop up during game playing and parents don’t even know about it. The drug companies know the way to sell their drugs is to tell us what we have to be fearful of having. They know that our brains take in information we don’t even know we are seeing and plant the symptoms of ailments. This can actually result in one manifesting all the symptoms without having them. A growing number of children are self-diagnosing themselves as ADD, when they are not. This type of ad was very prevalent during Covid sequestering. This makes sense, since the stress response will create behaviors similar to someone who has been legitimately diagnosed. All the symptoms the drug company described were classic responses to the primitive brain engagement: inability to stay focused, forgetting what you were going to do, forgetting information one once knew, and the list went on. Most of the symptoms listed disappeared within a year of the students being brought back to a new normalcy. Some are still manifesting symptoms since this was such a extended stress period
It has taken me two years to recover from being a teacher who transitioned into on-line learning and dealt with the bombardment of negative media.
3. Game creators use neuroscience to guarantee their games engage and retain users.
Dopamine is a feel good chemical that is excreted in the brain when we experience pleasure. Some game creators enlist the help of neuroscientists to test the levels of excitement in the brain of new games, If the game doesn’t bring about the right response, they will back to the drawing table to insure their game is a hit from the beginning.
Pong was the first in-home video game. It would never hold the attention of anyone today, but in the 70’s we played it for at least 45 minutes at a time. Every game that followed was faster than the last in order for the brain to get new excitement with each new game. The speed at which images are shot at us today is between 60-120 frames per second. There were only 12 images used in Walt Disney’s first movie. His first cartoons would not interest today’s children. They want full technicolor and 24 images per second. This provides the excitement necessary to excite the brain to release the feel good chemical, dopamine.
When students recognize that the overwhelming need to play the game is directly related to the dopamine release, they can control their use. As users play the game, less dopamine is released with each play. That burst of excitement in the brain begins to wane, but the desire does not. The player wants more, just like a drug addict. This is why game developers make up new games that are faster and more brain stimulating. They know users will be looking for a new bigger hit.
The users don’t seek a new game, because there isn’t play left in the old one. They crave the huge dopamine release they got from the first play. The desire to get this pleasurable feeling places
the game in control of the user, instead of the user being in control of the game.
When students finally understand this, they will willing to set timers so they can break the dopamine seeking cycle.
One question I always ask students I am helping to learn how to control their devices is, “Do you want the game to control you, or do you want to be the one in control?” Most children want some measure of control.
Reach out to me for support. I’ve been working with user addiction since 1995.
Please share your strategies that have been helpful. If you have a challenge, please share that so we can all learn from the new ones cropping up everyday. As the devices get more advanced, our children will be faced with bigger problems to navigate.