Smartphone addiction in kids

A few days back, I saw two kids. One was aged about 2 years old and the other was 7.

They were screaming and fighting over a smartphone. I later saw the elder one annoyed and frustrated because he couldn’t have it.

The effects of smartphones on kids is very devastating. Research has found association of smartphone addiction with anxiety and depression.

Kids have a very receptive mind and they build strong neuro associations. 

Neuro associations refer to the association of emotions to different occurrences, incidents or environments. 

For example, our brain associates both pain and pleasure with things going on around us. When it feels any kind of pleasure (like having chocolate) it immediately links it with what is happening (eating the chocolate). 

Similarly, it links pain (like burning sensation) with what is happening too (touching a hot pan).

If we laugh or play peek-a-boo with kids, they laugh, every time. Even if they were crying before, they will start to laugh once the peek-a-boo start.

This is because the child’s brain is responding to stimulus. It has neurons associated with the previously experienced action.

With that in mind, let’s talk about two negative neuro associations that kids can develop when frequently using smartphones from a young age.

Dopamine addiction

Did you ever wonder why we ‘elders’ grab our phones when we are feeling bored? It’s because we find something to entertain ourselves. Something like checking Instagram stories, when we do that we feel a certain pleasure. This pleasure is because our brain realizes this chemical hormone called dopamine.

When we accomplish something, we feel the reward and this feeling is a surge of dopamine.

When the child is crying, you try to keep your child busy. You hand over the smartphone to him, and the child starts playing games or watching some videos off YouTube.

When this happens the child is going to have a sense of pleasure due to the release of dopamine and feel good. 

Here’s what happened…

You made your baby stop crying so you could easily finish doing the dishes.

But your child has associated pleasure with smartphones.  

If you keep on doing this, they are going to form a pattern, when they cry they will be given a smartphone and they will then start to feel good and laugh.

It is a classic Cue – Routine – Reward set up you are giving to the kid.

There was an experiment conducted where a monkey was given a system with three keys green, red and blue. When the money hit the right key corresponding to the image displayed on the system, it was given blueberry juice. 

After this pattern was repeated for some time. Money got habitual to this. 

The cue – the bell sound, the routine was – monkey pressing the key and the reward – delicious blueberry juice. 

Later the scientists experimented with another scenario, the image was displayed, the monkey pressed the key but juice didn’t come. 

The monkey was frustrated.

Has this ever happened with you? You didn’t give your child a phone after he/she was crying and they got even more aggressive and repellent. I hope the experiment clears that out.

Such occurrences could be a sign of dopamine addiction.

Dopamine addiction altogether gave birth to another problem.

Which has probably weakened the young generation.

Instant Gratification

The internet, technology and smartphone have made us all habitual of instant gratification.

Immediate satisfaction to the cravings.

Have you ever tried to recall something which you knew well enough but just couldn’t remember?

What did you do then? To suppress the itching in your head to know it?

Do you Google it? And google answers it instantly. This is instant gratification. Wanting it right now.

What does happen when you get that sudden rush of dopamine.

Everything in this era is quick. You get hungry, you order it online, you don’t even have to move from where you are sitting. You want to feel a little less depressed, you go hang out on social media and feel better. This is all instant gratification.

When you kids have a smartphone available anytime. He is bound to be habitual to Instant Gratification.

“Modern man is conditioned to expect instant gratification, but any success or triumph realized quickly, with only marginal effort, is necessarily shallow. Meaningful achievement takes time, hard work, persistence, patience, proper intent and self-awareness. The path to success is punctuated by failure, consolidated, and renewed effort.”

Mark Twight

How does this effect in the long run?

 Such things like buying things or searching something online or connecting with your peers on social media in a click is way easy. Let’s face it. Life does get hard at times.

Why do you think the young generation is changing jobs this quickly without any solid reason? They all have excuses that the environment was not good enough, there was no growth etc. The Fact is, growth takes time.

Due to instant gratification, people want everything quick and soon. There is no patience left. 

I don’t want to sound harsh but if your child is getting habitual to this, it is a problem. You might not understand this right away, But you’ll regret it later.

How to prevent smartphone addiction in kids?

If I sum this up in one line, it is; you can change any habit or addiction by interrupting the pattern.

Instead of handing over the smartphone, engage them in any other activity. 

Yes, you will have to do some work here. You will have to talk to them, take them out for a walk or maybe jump like crazy.

Eventually, they will be installing a new pattern.

Final Thoughts

Drug addiction is harmful and we do everything to ensure kids are far away from it. Smartphone addiction is similar to drug addiction.

The best thing you could gift your child is a good mindset for the later stages of their life.

Not letting your kids play with your smartphone will benefit you and your kids.