We seem to be glued to our electronics. Where would we be without our computers and cell phones? Everywhere we go people are looking down at their phone and tablet screens. And many wonder why our kids are always wanting to be on our (or their own) phones, or on their tablets.
Through all these electronic devices, social media has made a huge mark on society. With the ability to connect us to all the world’s information and easily check up on friends at the click of a button, it sure is convenient, and quite a lot of fun as well. The problem is, social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat have become like an addictive drug to us, one that can cause health problems.
A Quick Dopamine Fix
When you reach for your mobile device to check a message or the latest trend on social media, it gives you a rush of dopamine (your body’s pleasure hormone). Your brain releases dopamine after you’ve made an accomplishment and while you’re having a good time. However, since people are now able to get their dopamine rush so easily, it builds up a tolerance and makes it harder and harder to experience that same "fix," which can then lead to increased occurrences of checking your phone, email, Facebook, etc. This is how addictive behavior starts.
Once your body starts getting used to the extra dopamine, you become more prone to negative feelings, like irritability, and run the risk of depression symptoms. It also plays a role in many people then experiencing an increased need to put their faces in front of their favorite social media. In addition, having the convenience of a cell phone or social media, which eliminates the need for face-to-face conversation, can also be a distraction from the real world. While this isn’t necessarily always a bad thing, it can often hinder the making of close personal connections. Believe it or not, social circles are important in a healthy lifestyle.
Using electronic screens for games or social media can make you crave dopamine. Even former Facebook executives admit that Facebook has had unintended negative consequences and some negative consequences that they actually knew about in advance and counted on, specifically, delivering dopamine fixes to our brains (check out this interview with two of them).
But you can ease these cravings by cutting down on your time using the internet and social media. You could try putting away cell phones for a weekend with your friends or family. Try to implement a “no phone” rule at the dinner table, whether you are at home or eating out. Stop phone and screen use long before you go to bed so your dopamine levels return to their normal state; you may find you can get better, more restful sleep at night. This alone can boost your sense of mental health and happiness.
And if you’re having issues with your kids wanting too much “screen time,” pay close attention to the example you’re setting. Make sure you are not unintentionally sending them the message that something happening on your phone is somehow more important than paying attention to them or a friend you are talking to, etc. Our kids see far too many adults in their lives checking their phones while they are in the middle of a conversation with someone else. Don’t think your kids don’t notice the adults at the restaurant table near yours, with their faces down, looking at their phone screens instead of talking to each other. Society is sending our kids the message “Hey, cool stuff is happening on this screen.” So naturally they want “in.” Make sure your kids understand that with electronic screens, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., like so many other things in life, there is a proper time and place for their use. And make sure you understand that too.