Almost all children have smartphones now and from an increasing younger age too. In 2012 the percentage of 16-19 year old with mobile internet devices was 60% – by 2016 it had risen to over 90%. They pester their carers until worn down, they cave in. Children refine the art of advocacy by pleading that they are being “left behind” or feel “the odd one out” if they can’t show off a shiny new smartphone. It’s understandable that many busy parents take the line of least resistance. Many are also hoping of course that schools will deal with teaching the necessary lessons and that the government will somehow regulate any potential problems. This hope may be misplaced.
Recent research published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior shows that teenagers experience symptoms that mimic post traumatic stress if they are deprived of their smartphones for even a short time. This is a curious trick played by the brain to compel us to repeat a behaviour that we have unconsciously deemed valuable for our survival. Yes it feels like our physical survival is actually under threat. Of course it’s not true, but the urgency to repeat that behavior is driven by neurochemicals that motivate us to act. The primary one is dopamine.
The brain doesn’t know what pornography, social media or gaming are. It just responds to levels of stimulation that drives us to rewards that seem to promote survival or inhibit behaviours that will cause pain. Many pleasurable activities and substances hijack that reward system in the brain. This is why alcohol, gambling, video gaming, junk food, drugs and internet pornography can keep us coming back for more.
Of course if we keep bingeing on pleasurable behaviours and substances, the brain adapts to prioritise those rewards to the exclusion of other behaviours that may in reality be more important tour long term wellbeing and survival. For instance, we start to value watching pornography videos over doing our homework or learning the creative art of real relationships.
Only by becoming aware of subtle physical urges can we start to experiment with alternative strategies to help us avoid behaviours that we may later regret. Dieters can decide in advance for example to avoid standing next to the buffet table at a party. Drinkers can avoid the alcohol aisle in the local supermarket. So too can those seeking to avoid responding to notifications on the phone or the siren lure of pornography sites and chat rooms pause to plan avoiding action and thus create new responses and habits.
Share this article