“I'm convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children”. You could be forgiven for thinking that this was the ranting of a technophobe, however the harsh reality is the comments were made by Athena Chavarria, who worked as an executive assistant at Facebook and is now at Mark Zuckerberg's philanthropic arm, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. This is a woman who works at the forefront of the emerging technology our children are accessing, yet she lives by the mantra that the last child in the class to get a phone wins
This is a message which parents should heed. When the people who make these devices are so upfront about, their efforts to protect their own children from device addiction and harmful content, from a consumer point of view the manufacturer is telling us, these devices are bad for your children. For a long time, we have watched the endless parade of people spouting the familiar tale of the educational benefits of the devices. Any rationally minded person looking at children using devices, will quickly notice the content being absorbed everything but educational.
Devices are designed to be addictive. Unlike a book, once you come to the end of a page you have to you cannot proceed any further unless turn the page. This is called a Stopping Cue. Reading a Newspaper, once you reach the back page, it's finished. However on digital devices, the eternal scroll down feature used by countless platforms, has removed Stopping Cues. This impacts a person's ability to regulate their own self-control. How do you stop, when there is always new content, only one swipe away?
Addiction to Smartphones
We are also impacted by the type of content. Upon seeing content you like on the device, Dopamine a hormone associated with pleasure, is released. When children are separated from their devices you sometimes see a sudden burst of rage or upset, this is being acknowledged as a form of withdrawal. The child now becomes preoccupied, about when the device will be returned to them, and will experience a feeling of anticipation. The feeling anticipation then turns to excitement, once the device is returned. Anticipation combined with the reward of Dopamine released in the body, can eventually lead in to, what is called a reward seeking behaviour, or an addiction cycle.
If the content activates an emotion like anger, sadness, displeasure or the feeling of absence from the device, hormones associated with Stress, Cortisol and Adrenaline are released in the body. It is incredibly important to understand these hormones can cause a person to feel anxious, over time this can lead to Mental Illness. We are now seeing children presenting with Anxiety Disorders in Ireland. The constant release of Cortisol and Adrenaline, which are associated with the fight or flight response, can cause physical damage to the organs of the body over time.
Digital Candy or Crack Cocaine
Chris Anderson, is the former editor of Wired. He is now the chief executive of a robotics and drone company. He is also the founder of GeekDad.com. “On the scale between candy and crack cocaine, it's closer to crack cocaine,” Mr. Anderson said. “We thought we could control it,” Mr. Anderson said. “And this is beyond our power to control. This is going straight to the pleasure centres of the developing brain. This is beyond our capacity as regular parents to understand.”
There are now a whole generation of children, who by the time they hit their twenties, will possibly have accumulated damage to their organs from the over release of Stress hormones, which has the potential to shorten their lifespan. The Addiction cycle experienced by children on their devices, works on the exact same principle as a form of drug or alcohol addiction. If children are losing their ability for self-control at a very young age, how will this impact them in later years when they are exposed to addictive substances?
The overall consensus with many Silicone Valley Tech executives, is the impact technology is having on children is overwhelmingly, a negative one. These devices were not originally designed to be child only devices. They were devices designed for adults, to be used by adults, who were targeted with programs developed to keep the adult user active on the device and the platform. The mistake we made, was we permitted children to access an adult device.
“I didn't know what we were doing to their brains until I started to observe the symptoms and the consequences,” Mr. Anderson said. “This is scar tissue talking. We've made every mistake in the book, and I think we got it wrong with some of my kids,” Mr. Anderson said. “We glimpsed into the chasm of addiction, and there were some lost years, which we feel bad about.”
John Lilly, a Silicon Valley-based venture capitalist with Greylock Partners and the former C.E.O. of Mozilla has an approach with his nephew that we have been using when we present to children in schools all over Ireland, “I try to tell him somebody wrote code to make you feel this way — I'm trying to help him understand how things are made, the values that are going into things and what people are doing to create that feeling,” Mr. Lilly said. However Mr Lilly still faced the opposition from his own nephew we also frequently see in children, “And he's like, ‘I just want to spend my 20 bucks to get my Fortnite skins.'”
Knowing this it is easy to understand why “Doing no screen time is almost easier than doing a little,” said Kristin Stecher, a former social computing researcher married to a Facebook engineer. “If my kids do get it at all, they just want it more.” More than a few parents will have experiences the trials and tribulations of attempting to tear a child away from a device. We are not advising any parent to take an abolishment approach. However we are strongly advising the screen time is limited monitored and the content always restricted to age appropriate.