As parents of two teenage boys, my wife and I went to see the award-winning documentary Screenagers the other night at our local community center. We weren’t alone. If you are worried about the amount of time your tech-savvy kids or grandchildren are spending on their devices, then this film is a must-see. Since Screenagers isn’t shown in most commercial theaters, you’ll have to find it at a local school, church synagogue or community center. It’s worth the effort.
Screenagers is directed by physician Delaney Ruston who set out on a journey to see if she should be concerned about the amount of time her own teens were spending on their devices. As Ruston and other researchers discovered, the average American kid spends 6.5 hours a day looking at screens (not including time spent online doing actual homework). In short, she found that screen time is definitely affecting concentration, development and family relationships although not entirely in bad ways. If you set some reasonable boundaries, then you kids can maintain their social status without turning into one of those gamers you hear about on the news who doesn’t leave their room for weeks at a time.
As Alter described in a recent New York Times interview, addiction is no longer limited to getting hooked on chemical substances such as heroin, cocaine and nicotine. It’s really about seeking any experience that makes us feel good. That’s because when we do, our brains to release the neurotransmitter dopamine and we keep coming back for another hit of the feel-good chemical. It could be getting likes on social media or getting to the next level on your favorite online game.
“We’ll get a flood of dopamine that makes us feel wonderful in the short term, though in the long term you build a tolerance and want more,” noted Alter. Not surprisingly, Alter found that game producers often pretest different versions of a release to see which one is hardest to resist and which will keep your attention longest. It must be working.
A Gallup poll found that half of U.S. smartphone users check their devices at least several times per hour and that 60 percent of adults keep their cellphones next to them when they sleep. A Good Technology survey of 1,000 workers found that half of respondents check their emails during the night. Sure, some of that checking in is for work-related purposes (or work-related paranoia), but gaming companies and social media platforms know our gadgets are perfect delivery devices for addictive media. If games and social media were once confined to our home computers, portable devices permit us to engage with them everywhere.
The problem, said alter is that, “We’re checking our social media constantly, which disrupts work and everyday life. We’ve become obsessed with how many ‘likes’ our Instagram photos are getting instead of where we are walking and whom we are talking to.” If you’re on the phone for three hours a day, Alter said you’re not spending enough time on face-to-face interactions with actual people. “Smartphones give everything you need to enjoy the moment you’re in, but they don’t require much initiative. You never have to remember anything because everything is right in front of you. You don’t have to develop the ability to memorize or to come up with new ideas.”
Solutions for tech addicts (and near-addicts)
Our January post, Time for a Technology Timeout, described a number of tech detox facilities and we talked about our 24-hour weekend tech-fasts here at HB. Alter suggested being more mindful about how we are allowing tech to invade our lives. Instead of going cold turkey, Alter suggested cordoning off your tech usage. For instance, not answering email after six at night or only posting or responding to emails at selected times of the day. (We recommend 9am, lunch time and right before you go home).
Alter said, “find more time to be in natural environments, to sit face to face with someone in a long conversation without any technology in the room. There should be times of the day where it looks like the 1950s or where you are sitting in a room and you can’t tell what era you are in. You shouldn’t always be looking at screens.”
In the film Screenagers, one good strategy that Dr. Ruston suggested was drawing up a contract with your teen about how often they can use their smartphone every day. The key is not to ram the contract down your kid’s throat. Instead, present it to them as a first draft, let them make some modifications and negotiate a little. That way, they’ll feel they had some say in the rules and will be more likely to comply.
*** New Insta Poll: How many times per month are you communicating with clients? Early results show that about half of you are not communicating often enough. See how you stack up to your peers (Our latest Insta Poll is on the right side of our home page). Maybe it’s time you put the devices down and picked up the old fashioned phone a little more.
Walking out of the Screenagers showing, my wife and I couldn’t help noticing how many adults whipped out their smartphones the minute the film was over. If you want your kids, employees and co-workers to be more present in the real world, you need to start setting an example. Use mobile technology as a powerful communication and information gathering tool—don’t let it own you or define you.
TAGS: Screenagers, Delaney Ruston, Adam Alter, tech addiction