Parents, try these 'anti-dopamine' hacks to avoid screen time tantrums this summer

Two young children standing in front of a TV
Four strategies may help prevent kids from becoming TV zombies this summer.Jacabel/Getty Images
  • Most parents battle with their kids over screen time and junk food consumption.

  • A new report on NPR dials in on how dopamine plays an impactful role in what our kids desire.

  • Anti-dopamine parenting may help parents set limits for kids and curb addictive behaviors.

School's out — or almost out — across the country, which means that  parents are scrambling to fill their kid's days with enriching activities, volunteer opportunities, and moments for peaceful reflection. Just kidding. Most of us are strategizing how we're going to win the war against screen time and junk food — especially as our resolve wares down and parenting exhaustion sets in as the summer goes on. 

Earlier today, a report by Michaeleen Doucleff on NPR's Morning Edition outlined a strategy that has the potential to put parents back in charge, or at least give them fighting chance when it comes to common battles over screens and edible treats.

By using an approach she's referring to as "anti-dopamine parenting," caregivers can use science-backed advice from neuroscientists to tap into the brain mechanics that drives desire in kids, she reports. Once that's understood, parents can then, in theory, work to tweak the environment and their childrens' reactions to it, and guide kids to less addictive behaviors.

We're all addicted to dopamine

According to Psychology Today, dopamine is a neurotransmitter that carries information between brain cells. Historically, dopamine has been linked to motivation and mood, as Insider previously reported. But new research is shedding light on how this response triggers desire too.

"Dopamine makes you want things,"Anne-Noël Samaha a neuroscientist at the University of Montreal explained to NPR.

Which is why dopamine is a slippery slope. If you eat a chip an enjoy it, you're likely to feel a little dopamine boost, then you're probably going to go back for more. That's because the effects of dopamine are temporary. Once you eat the chip, your dopamine levels get a quick spike before dropping back downmaking you crave another spike. This is how dopamine feeds into addiction.

For kids, activities like watching TV, eating junk food, and playing video games can all result in a dopamine boost — one that needs to be continually fed to keep feeling good, Douceleff reported. But battling against these desires can feel like an uphill battle for parents, and for good reason.

"It's not you versus your child, but rather it's you versus a hijacked neural pathway. It's the dopamine you're fighting. And that's not a fair fight,'" Emily Cherkin, a screen time consultant, told NPR.

Four strategies for curbing your kid's dopamine addiction

Understanding how things like screens and sweets are potentially intoxicating for kids can help parents devise a plan to set limits and tweak behaviors, the report said. Here's how:

  1. Take 5: Dopamine surges are potent, Kent Berridge a neuroscientist at the University of Michigan told NPR. "If you take away the cue and you can wait two to five minutes, a lot of the urge usually goes away," he said. So, if your child ate a cookie and wants more, put the rest of the cookies away (out of sight, out of mind) and try to wait out the tantrum or verbal protest.

  2. Find your child's sweet spot activities: Everyone reacts to dopamine differently, and different activities release varying amounts of the chemical for each person. Some activities — like playing with friends outside or doing a video chat with a relative — may release just enough dopamine to keep someone happy, but not encroach on addictive behavior, Douceleff reported. Note what activities your child responds positively too, and lean into those.

  3. Create microenvironments: Establish areas in your home that are free from addictive distractions, Dr. Anna Lembke, a psychiatrist at Stanford University and author of the book "Dopamine Nation," told Douceleff. She suggests limiting phone or tablet use to one room in the house, and then working to limit usage amounts.

  4. Tweak activities to make them more meaningful: Getting your kids to drop video games all together isn't likely, but you can encourage them to adjust their habits. Douceleff reported that she was able to shift her daughter from watching cartoons to playing with an educational language-based app. While she admitted there was resistance at first, her daughter used the app nightly for several weeks before forgoing screens altogether.

Read the full story at NPR >> 

Read the original article on Insider