Why are Kids Glued to Their Screens?
Updated: Apr 13
The world has gone digital. That isn’t too surprising given the rise in online shopping, remote work, and the sheer vastness of the internet. Many of us (myself included) work solely on laptops. Meetings are virtual and classes are aided with the use of online materials (if not completely web-based). The online world is often just as important as the physical one in today's day and age. Our world is connected by phones, laptops and screens. A child’s world is no different. Kids today are faced with not only a world of technology but a society that runs on it. So what factors influence children to be on their screens?
Attention and Concentration
Have you ever had that phantom buzz or notification sound? You’re hard at work or just trying to relax and all of a sudden, your phone gets a notification. I’m willing to bet you will quickly check your phone. I mean it could be something important and you don’t want to miss out on anything.
That is a prime example of how our phones hack our attention and concentration. We have this internal urge to look at the device. The chime of the phone has conditioned us to check it. The breaking of this concentration can make it difficult to get back into the flow of what we were doing prior to the notification. It is no different for our children. Their devices' condition them to look at the screen, even when it’s not on. This is largely why big companies like Apple have rolled out features like “Do Not Disturb”.
The issue when it comes to children however is that often these features are not natively enabled, they are often designed to be an addition rather than the norm. This means that your child has to have the agency and desire to enable the feature. Even though it is possible to set parameters around the devices as a parent or caregiver, from a social perspective, so much of a child’s social life fits within that screen so by limiting the screen time, we are in a way limiting an aspect of social interaction.
This brings me to the next factor of how screen time impacts children. Ever since the first computer connected to the internet, news moved a mile a millisecond. Today, in order to keep up with trends and news, children are spending more time online and on social media than ever before.
Without sounding like the old man yelling at people to get off my lawn, there was a time when trending topics moved slower. Back when conversations in lunch halls were about the newest huge movie that came out a month ago or the TV show that you had to wait a week or more to see the next episode of. Back then, you could miss a moment and still feel engaged with your peers. Nowadays, the internet is so vast and so quick with rapid turnover, trends are weekly if not near daily.
With everything moving so fast, it is no wonder that children are spending so much time on screens and social media. People are naturally social creatures and we have an innate desire to fit in. To put it simply, many children are on screens so they don’t become the outcast that doesn’t fit in.
Let’s face it, screens can be fun. There’s a reason why videogames are a billion dollar industry, there’s a reason why movies and TV shows make a ton of money. They are enjoyable. The issue is that while these activities are enjoyable, they create a difficult situation for children when it comes to enjoyable activities and dopamine.
Dopamine plays a role as a “reward center” and in many functions such as memory, movement, motivation, mood, and attention. A recent study on dopamine and childhood development found “Over exposure to digital environments triggers a chain of interdependent negative and potentially long-term metabolic changes. This leads to a deregulation of the serotonin and dopamine neurotransmitter pathways in the developing brain.”
Screen time can lead to an influx in dopamine, flooding the brain with the feel good chemical, thus reducing dopamine in comparative activities. In simple terms, due to the large amount of dopamine released regularly from digital sources, the effects and threshold of dopamine are altered. This means that a child that spends a lot of time in front of a screen will likely either feel less of an emotional reaction or experience a shorter emotional reaction to stimulus like getting a good grade in class than their peer who spends less time in front of a screen.
What can we do?
Part of digital literacy and media literacy is understanding moderation and limitations. That’s where Cyberwise and Cyber Civics come in. By teaching about digital literacy, our students and children will be able to gain a better understanding of the impact that screens have on their daily lives. If your students would benefit from learning about digital literacy and the impact of screens, be sure to check out our 75 turnkey lessons! If you are a parent or caregiver, we have resources for you as well! We offer tips and tricks on how to parent in the digital world.
Connor joined the Cyber Civics team in 2023 with experience in both social work and marketing. In 2020 he earned his LMSW in Texas where he worked as a therapist in a private practice. He made the switch from direct practice to marketing and worked with therapists to help market the profession and practice. Connor now works for Cyber Civics and Cyberwise. After earning