Wondering how technology affects the brain negatively?
How do screens and technology affect us? More importantly does it help or hurt our children? And how much time on screens is too much?
These days we are more connected than ever.
We have more power in our pocket than NASA did in the 1960’s. And yet, in many ways, we’re more disconnected than ever. Make no mistake, just because we are connected, doesn’t mean we are truly connecting.
Children are exposed to an amazing amount of technology compared when I was a kid. Heck, I bet the only technology I had was maybe a calculator.
Today’s high-tech world is different.
iPADs are in the class room. Many kids these days at an all too young of an age have smart phones. Social media accounts are given to kids when they’re still in elementary school!
Make no mistake; these things can do amazing things and there are benefits from using them.
But there can also be crushing effects on our kids that many well-meaning parents don’t think about. So it’s crucial that we learn how technology affects the brain negatively.
Obviously technology provides us with an amazing amount of information right at our fingertips. But what are the costs? What are the downsides?
In this post we’re going to look at how technology affects the brain negatively.
The terrible negative effects of technology on children
Dr. Scott Becker is the Director of the Michigan State University Counseling Center.
In his studies over the past 18 years, Dr. Becker has looked at the “impact of technology on neurological and psychosocial development”. He notes the following increases in mental health issues and suggests a possible correlation with the increase of technology, social media and video games:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Substance abuse
- Sexual/physical abuse
He goes on to say that “multiple studies have shown shrinkage of tissue volume (in the brain) in gray matter areas in internet/gaming addictions.” Dr. Becker also points out that the increase in technology addiction hits people of color more than it does the white communities.
On average, he says “black youths have doubled their daily media use and Latino youths have quadrupled theirs”.
Dr Manfred Spitzer is also quoted in the above-linked report by Dr. Becker where he goes on to say that “the more you train your kids with computer games, the more attention deficit you get”.
One of my earliest, but highly shared blog posts looked specifically at the rise in ADD & ADHD and how studies have shown that playing with others outside (like we did when I was a kid) could be a Natural ADHD Solution. If you see signs of that in your house, I highly recommend you take a moment and check out that post.
Connection vs Connected – the sad truth about the modern age
Many of us, myself included, go along throughout our day liking, commenting and sharing other people’s social media posts. Sometimes these interactions are with people we’ve never even met. But many times they are our friends and co-workers.
But is that really connecting with them?
The short answer is no. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve liked and commented on a post and then some time later see them comment and feel like it’s the first time I’m getting that information.
Let me give you an example about how technology affects the brain negatively.
I have a friend named Rob. We are friends in “real life” but we now live in different states and thus our only interaction is through Facebook. He recently posted about how he was glad to finally be done with retail hours and how excited he was about his new job.
Rob and I used to work together at Whole Foods Market, so my initial reaction was to text him and ask him about leaving that company. My friend reminded me that he had actually left Whole Foods some time ago and that this was just another change since that original move.
I then recalled his original post about leaving Whole Foods. I knew he left and had commented on it and “liked” it, but it didn’t connect in me the same way as if we had had a face to face conversation and he had told me about it.
In short, while I was connected to Rob, I wasn’t connecting with Rob.
Combatting how technology affects the brain negatively
First we have to look at ourselves.
We can’t instill changes in technology use with our kids if we constantly have a phone in our hand. Kids can smell a hypocrite a mile away.
If you struggle with Cell Phone Addiction, take a moment and review both the symptoms of that as well as solutions you can implement.
Next it’s important to set strict limits and guidelines for your kids and technology. In my house, we don’t plan to get our daughters phones until at least middle school. And we aren’t likely to get them social media accounts until high school.
We also give them 30 minutes of screen time when they get home from school with a little more on Saturdays. Sundays are generally family day with little to no screen time. Check out more about what we do and the Benefits of Limiting Screen Time in one of my most popular posts.
The impact on the brain then impacts behaviors and the ability to focus and learn.
Gray Matters: Too Much Screen Time Damages the Brain | Psychology Today https://t.co/bzAXtjV5t3
— Debra Dushko (@DushkoDebra) March 10, 2018
Another example I can share from our own life is one of our daughter’s friends.
She’s 11 and for some time now has had her own iPhone and Instagram account (and possibly others). My wife and I instantly noticed she has a disconnect with truly being in the moment with others.
She gets bored quickly and is constantly changing tasks and interests. She also lacks real empathy and understanding of how her actions affect others and often lies to both our daughter and us.
In short, while she’s a sweet girl (with a bit of a troubled past), in my opinion, the introduction into the adult world at a young age has stunted her emotional growth and will continue to present more and more challenges as she gets older.
The proven power of truly connecting with another person
When we truly connect with someone, there’s an emotional and mental connection (and sometimes physical as well).
We look in their eyes and we empathize with what they are telling us. We understand what they are telling us just like we would if we saw it on Instagram. But we also feel it in our brains in a way we never would simply by interacting with technology.
When we truly connect with someone we draw closer to them in a way not possible through a screen. It deepens friendships. It’s crucial for love and romantic relationships.
Many of us go throughout our days starved for true connection. This is one of the chief ways of how technology affects the brain negatively.
So how do we truly connect with someone else?
First and foremost we have to be 100% present to them.
That means no distractions; they have our undivided attention. Put the phone down. Even better, turn off your ringer when you get home. Focus on the person you’re with. Make eye contact.
When you feel your mind drifting to what to make for dinner or did your kid have a shower last night, just take a deep breath and re-focus. The intent is not to train your brain to be perfect.
The intent is to recognize that by default we are imperfect, BUT that we can realize when we’re no longer present in the moment and we can re-commit and bringing our awareness back.
Do that repeatedly if necessary but the more you do it, the less often you’ll have to do it down the road.
This concept of being present to what we are doing, focusing on one task at a time instead of the illusion that multi-tasking makes us more productive is known as mindfulness.
If you’re new to this concept and want to dive in deeper, Time Magazine has an excellent feature edition called TIME Mindfulness: The New Science of Health and Happiness. It’s filled with a variety of truly excellent articles from different experts available for a great price on Amazon.
How does technology affect the way we sleep?
— CNBC International (@CNBCi) March 10, 2018
Like drinking enough water, getting enough quality sleep is one of the most important things we can do for our physical and mental health.
But don’t take my word for it!
Harvard University conducted studies on sleep and how the lack of it affects our body. They found that “sleep plays an important role in memory, both before and after learning a new task. Lack of adequate sleep affects mood, motivation, judgment, and our perception of events.”
So if we know sleep is important, it’s worth asking how our ever-present technology affects our ability to sleep.
The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine conducted a study on how technology affects the brain negatively with regards to sleep.
They noted that “individuals (who use technology before bed) reported difficulty falling asleep and maintaining sleep”. The study also noted that “Nearly all adults, especially young adults, use technology before bed.”
It goes on to say that “as the possibilities increase for talking, texting, browsing, emailing, working, playing, posting, and reading before bed . . . it is important for sleep researchers to understand how these changing patterns of use affect sleep and, in turn, health and well-being.”
Going back to Dr. Becker’s study that I quoted at the top, he also found that “2 hour exposure to light from . . . electronic displays can suppress melatonin by about 22%”. Melatonin is a crucial hormone our body naturally creates to regulate our sleep cycles. Without it, we will naturally have trouble getting good quality sleep.
In short, for better sleep don’t use screens in bed. Turn ringers off and ideally keep them in a living area and not a sleeping area.
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So we know learned how technology affects the brain negatively. And we know that like any activity, technology can become addictive.
We also know that restricted access and limits on technology for kids is important for their emotional development.
If this is new information, fear not! we are all Imperfect Parents!
We all make mistakes and have to occasionally take steps to move in new directions. There’s no shame in admitting we need to shift our parenting. There is, however, in turning a blind eye or letting our own ego get in the way of doing what’s right.
But most importantly we talked about how being connected isn’t the same as connecting with another.
And we talked about the crucial steps we can all take to truly connect better with our friends and loved ones and the benefits that can only come from true connection.
Do you agree on how technology affects the brain negatively?
Any tips not covered here?
Feel free to comment here or email me with any questions!