Does your kid freak out when screen time is up? Intense reactions to turning off video games are becoming too common. Where is this anger at stopping the game coming from? When someone plays a video game, the brain’s pleasure chemical, dopamine, is secreted into the reward center. For eons of human existence, this region was being lit up for things only related to human survival –such as human connection, sex, food and such. Today, young children are receiving the pleasure chemical when they get notifications from texts, email and video games.
When the game is cut off, so is the dopamine. And when the brain realizes it will not be getting the pleasure chemical, emotions like anger and panic take over. Scientists call this “surge extinction.” We see this in the lab when a rat learns to push a lever and gets rewarded with a drug. If suddenly the drug stops flowing, the rat does not walk away calmly but instead starts pushing on the lever frantically. This behavior is very similar to when our kids’ freak out when the gaming console is turned off.
So how do we make transitions from video games work better? Dialogue, limits, and warnings. Bring your child into the decision about when to stop. If they have ownership of the stop times, they will be less likely to freak out.
Every expert talks about the importance of having a timer set while kids are playing video games. Having a timer set means that not only have you and your child decided on an amount of time, it also defines the time and helps with transitions. Some recommend having a timer with two bells, one that goes off 10 minutes to stop time and one at the end.
Another tip is to practice transitions with kids. Let's say your child often gets upset when the time is up. Consider working with him or her to find a game they find boring and then practice transitioning off it. If nothing else this might create some smiles talking about “stupid” games. Eventually, pick harder games to transition off and talk about how it could go better.
One thing is to help the child become mindful of reality. For instance, maybe it is super hard for her to transition off a game that she is playing online with her friends because she doesn’t want to let her friends down. Maybe the key is to get her to realize that it is best not to play that game when she only gets thirty minutes on the computer that day.
Another thing to consider is that when we play these rewarding games, our brain’s pleasure chemical, dopamine, is filling up dopamine receptors. Our brain adapts by decreasing dopamine receptors. This means, over time, the brain will need more and more video games to get the same pleasurable feelings from the reward. For this reason, many experts recommend limiting video game use to shorter time intervals (such as 30 minutes at a time) to prevent this down-regulation of dopamine receptors.
Below are questions to help you talk to your kids about video games and transitions.
A blog post from Dr. Delany Ruston (producer of Screenagers):
Last week Common Sense Media released the results from their latest survey: Media Use by Kids Age Zero to Eight. While the results are not surprising, they are troubling.
What I found most interesting is that almost half of kids eight years old and under have their own mobile device (this includes all types of mobile electronics including smartphones). What are the concerns of this new mobile reality?
First, we have to fully accept the intensity with which youth desire today’s fast-paced and interactive screen time. I hear of one and a half-year-olds standing up in their cribs yelling, “iPad, iPad” not “Mommy” or “Daddy.” Screen time plays directly into the pleasure parts of children’s brains. They want high excitement and flashing lights—they want dopamine secreted in the nucleus accumbens of their brain.
Now that this dopamine pump can travel everywhere with a child, it means as parents we have two choices: hand the device over and quiet the child or, set clear guidelines and work to stick to them. This is not easy, and this is exactly what Screenagers is all about. In the movie, I explore the science of screen time but also what the science of parenting tells us about how to set and stay within limits.
There are several ways that limiting the use of mobile devices outside the home can help young kids' development:
So how young is too young for a mobile device? I prefer instead to think about how often do we give youth mobile devices to use outside the home? I can’t give an exact age, but I can say that particularly for toddlers, the more mobile devices are not mobile, the better.
Here are some questions to get a conversation started with your kids about these issues:
For more discussion ideas, you can peruse past Tech Talk Tuesdays. If you are interested in seeing Screenagers, you can find event listings on our site and find out how to host a screening.
Stay in touch with the Screenagers community on Facebook, Twitter and at
Delaney Ruston, MD
Let’s face it—our kids are exposed to lots of media that is pure junk. Media frequently paints a world filled with such intense negativity— people out to impress, people out for themselves, people out to hurt others...the list goes on and on. So how to expose kids to media that has positive messages but is not overly sappy? To find media that is real and meaningful? In my completely unbiased view, I think documentaries make for great media. Okay, I am biased because I am one of many people who make documentaries.
Documentaries can so beautifully grip one's heart while bringing awareness to a great variety of topics. I think it is so important that kids know about this diversity of issues. In June I was in Harlem, NY to do a showing of Screenagers at an after-school program. Before the screening, I asked some students what they knew about the film they were going to watch. One student replied, ”I don’t know, but I know it is a documentary, so I think it will be about animals.” Another student then said, “Nah, it could also be about history.”
Below is a collection of some of my family’s favorites (There are many others, but I will save them for later). At the top are ones that I think are appropriate for all ages and below are ones best for teens and older.
For this week’s TTT share this list with your family and pick one to watch together. Please share with me what you watched if you get a chance. Also, it would be great to get your favorite kid/teen friendly docs on our Facebook page.
BEST FOR ANY AGE:
Spellbound chronicles the experiences of eight kids as they progress through the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee.
First Position looks inside the determined and focused world of youth ballet. This documentary follows six dancers as they compete in the 2011 American Grand Prix, an annual competition for dancers aged 9 to 19.
That Sugar Film is a documentary in which Filmmaker Damon Gameau takes us along for the ride as he goes from a diet of no sugar to one with sugar.
Batkid Begins is a true heart warmer. This documentary invites you along with the Make-A-Wish foundation as they turn San Francisco into Gotham City for 5-year-old cancer survivor Miles Scott so he can save the day as Batkid.
My Kid Could Paint That introduces us to Marla Olmstead, a four-year-old who paints incredible paintings—but is she truly doing it alone?
BEST FOR TEENS AND OLDER:
Mai's America follows the experiences of a Vietnamese teenager from the bustling city of Hanoi as she spends her senior year in rural Mississippi.
Devil's Playground offers a unique glimpse into the lives of Amish teenagers as they embark on the coming-of-age ritual of Rumspringa. Teens have the option to party at age 16 and then decide if they want to stay in their Amish culture or not.
Ivory Tower investigates the cost and value of higher education. I really think this is an excellent film for those who are finishing high school or in college now.
Street Fight follows Corey Booker and 16-year incumbent Sharpe James during their 2002 New Jersey mayoral campaign.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) released recommendations for the number of hours a night that kids and teens need to sleep, to function at their best.
"Infants 4 months to 12 months should sleep 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
Children 1 to 2 years of age should sleep 11 to 14 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
Children 3 to 5 years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
Children 6 to 12 years of age should sleep 9 to 12 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep 8 to 10 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health."
Regularly sleeping fewer than the number of recommended hours is associated with attention, behavior, and learning problems. Insufficient sleep also increases the risk of accidents, injuries, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and depression. Insufficient sleep in teenagers is associated with increased risk of self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts.
Regularly sleeping more than the recommended hours may be associated with adverse health outcomes such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and mental health problems.
Parents who are concerned that their child is sleeping too little or too much should consult their healthcare provider for evaluation of a possible sleep disorder.
Several studies show that small screens int he bedroom can disrupt sleep. In February 2015, the Journal of Pediatrics published a study of 2048 4th - 7th graders which found that sleeping with a small screen decreased sleep time by 20 minutes, usually because of delayed bedtimes.
For Tech Talk Tuesday this week, here are a few questions to help you start your conversation:
** The 14 health and well-being-related issues were:
For this Tech Talk Tuesday use these four rules as a conversation starter, then come up with a few rules of your own that will work for your family. Suggested talking points are: