Recently Brandon Hall School hosted a showing of the film “Screenagers” for their students’ parents and local community. “Screenagers” is the first feature documentary to explore the impact of screen technology on kids and to offer parents proven solutions that work.
Physician and filmmaker Delaney Ruston decided to make “Screenagers” when she found herself constantly struggling with her two kids about screen time. Ruston felt guilty and confused, not sure what limits were best, especially around mobile phones, social media, gaming, and how to monitor online homework. Hearing repeatedly how other parents were equally overwhelmed, she realized this is one of the biggest, unexplored parenting issues of our time.
Director Ruston turned the camera on her own family and others—revealing stories that depict messy struggles over social media, video games, academics and internet addiction.
As an additional resource to parents Tamara Ancona was invited to participate in a panel discussion following the film, and help answer questions parents had surrounding their own teen’s screen usage.
Tamara has a Master of Arts in Psychology with a Clinical Counseling Specialty and holds her certification as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in the state of Georgia. Her area of specialty prior to establishing her educational consulting practice has included counseling individuals and families in the acute care, corporate, and private practice settings. She also has vast experience facilitating therapeutic, educational and experiential groups with both the adult and teen populations.
Since 1998, her focus as an educational consultant has been to provide families within the Southern Region and across the United States with distinct educational options or therapeutic alternatives for their struggling teen or young adult children.
If you have a teen or young adult struggling with appropriate screen usage call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC, at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss potential solutions.
What makes technology so irresistible? As it becomes more prevalent in our society it is vital to look at long term consequences, and how we can positively control the effect on future generations?
The following is an article written by the New York Times featuring a new book titled, “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked,” by Dr. Adam Alter, which focuses on these issues.
Why We Can’t Look Away From Our Screens
In a new book, “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked,” the social psychologist Adam Alter warns that many of us — youngsters, teenagers, adults — are addicted to modern digital products. Not figuratively, but literally addicted.
Dr. Alter, 36, is an associate professor at the Stern School of Business at New York University who researches psychology and marketing. We spoke for two hours last week at the offices of The New York Times. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.
What makes you think that people have become addicted to digital devices and social media?
In the past, we thought of addiction as mostly related to chemical substances: heroin, cocaine, nicotine. Today, we have this phenomenon of behavioral addictions where, one tech industry leader told me, people are spending nearly three hours a day tethered to their cell phones. Where teenage boys sometimes spend weeks alone in their rooms playing video games. Where Snapchat will boast that its youthful users open their app more than 18 times a day.
Behavioral addictions are really widespread now. A 2011 study suggested that 41 percent of us have at least one. That number is sure to have risen with the adoption of newer more addictive social networking platforms, tablets and smart phones.
How do you define “addiction”?
The definition I go with is that it has to be something you enjoy doing in the short term, that undermines your well-being in the long term — but that you do compulsively anyway.
We’re biologically prone to getting hooked on these sorts of experiences. If you put someone in front of a slot machine, their brain will look qualitatively the same as when they take heroin. If you’re someone who compulsively plays video games — not everyone, but people who are addicted to a particular game — the minute you load up your computer, your brain will look like that of a substance abuser.
We are engineered in such a way that as long as an experience hits the right buttons, our brains will release the neurotransmitter dopamine. 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.
Do the designers of the new technologies understand what they’re doing?
The people who create video games wouldn’t say they are looking to create addicts. They just want you to spend as much time as possible with their products.
Some of the games on smart phones require you to give money as you play, so they want to keep you playing. The designers will build into a game a certain amount of feedback, in the same way that slot machines offer an occasional win to hold your interest.
Not surprisingly, game producers will often pretest different versions of a release to see which one is hardest to resist and which will keep your attention longest. It works.
For the book, I spoke with a young man who sat in front of his computer playing a video game for 45 consecutive days! The compulsive playing had destroyed the rest of his life. He ended up at a rehabilitation clinic in Washington State, reSTART, where they specialize in treating young people with gaming dependencies.
Do we need legislation to protect ourselves?
It’s not a bad idea to consider it, at least for online games.
In South Korea and China, there are proposals for something they call Cinderella laws. The idea is to protect children from playing certain games after midnight.
Gaming and internet addiction is a really serious problem throughout East Asia. In China, there are millions of youngsters with it, and they actually have camps where parents commit their children for months and where therapists treat them with a detox regime.
Why do you claim that many of the new electronic gadgets have fueled behavioral addictions?
Well, look at what people are doing. In one survey, 60 percent of the adults said they keep their cell phones next to them when they sleep. In another survey, half the respondents claimed they check their emails during the night.
Moreover, these new gadgets turn out to be the 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.
Today, 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.
Where’s the harm in this?
If you’re on the phone for three hours daily, that’s time you’re not spending on face-to-face interactions with people. Smart phones 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.
I find it interesting that the late Steve Jobs said in a 2010 interview that his own children didn’t use iPads. In fact, there are a surprising number of Silicon Valley titans who refuse to let their kids near certain devices. There’s a private school in the Bay Area and it doesn’t allow any tech — no iPhones or iPads. The really interesting thing about this school is that 75 percent of the parents are tech executives.
Learning about the school pushed me to write, “Irresistible.” What was it about these products that made them, in the eyes of experts, so potentially dangerous?
If you were advising a friend on quitting their behavioral addictions, what would you suggest?
I’d suggest that they be more mindful about how they are allowing tech to invade their life. Next, they should cordon it off. I like the idea, for instance, of not answering email after six at night.
In general, I’d say 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.
If you feel like your teen or young adult has trouble using technology in a healthy way contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC, at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss potential solutions.
If someone challenged you to a day without technology how do you think you’d do? The morning of March 3rd through the morning of March 4th is National Unplugged Day – and your chance to put yourself to the test!
The idea behind the challenge is to rest, reconnect with those around you face-to-face, and to recognize the ways our lives are immersed in technology.
At TAG Counseling we challenge you to participate and unplug for 24 hours. After you do, spend some time as a family evaluating the differences you felt that day – did you like having more time to connect on a personal level? Did you feel like you were missing out? How much time do you think you saved not being on your devices?
If you feel like your teen or young adult has trouble using technology appropriately contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC, at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss potential solutions.