How Screens Are Keeping Us from Happiness

In this technology-everywhere age, more and more people are crossing the line from screen dependence to full-blown addiction.

That might sound like hyperbole, but unfortunately it isn’t. In fact, Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, author of the book Glow Kids and one of the country’s top addiction experts, told Vice News that true screen addition isn’t just like drug addiction: It’s worse.

“I’ve worked with hundreds of heroin addicts and crystal meth addicts, and what I can say is that it’s easier to treat a heroin addict than a true screen addict,” he said.

Family having tech-timeThe reason? Screens are everywhere. They’re such an integral part of life that we can’t just tell people to avoid them entirely to avoid the risk of being pulled back in. With drugs, part of rehabilitation therapy is to stay away from situations where drugs might be. Not so with screens.

If you feel yourself compulsively checking your phone – or worse, if you’re noticing that behavior in your kids – don’t wait until it becomes a full-blown addiction to start to make a change. In this blog, I’ll tell you about how screens affect the developing brain – and what we can do to make healthy, life-affirming choices when it comes to technology.

How Screen Time Affects Kids

Our overdependence on screens is bad for all of us. But kids may suffer the most from it.

Video games today are getting more and more immersive and realistic – and addictive. And that’s no accident, according to Kardaras. He explains that game manufacturers today employ neuroscientists and psychologists who test their games on people to make sure they’re as stimulating as possible. If a game doesn’t raise the subject’s blood pressure to 180 over 140, it’s back to the drawing board.

The result is that kids who spend too much time playing these games live in a perpetual state of fight-or-flight mode. Their adrenal glands are constantly under stress and producing way too much adrenaline. Pair that with the heightened levels of dopamine created by these new video games, and you have a recipe for addiction.

Not only are screen-loving kids being deluged with adrenaline and dopamine, they’re also stunting the development of their brains. Research shows that too much screen time prevents the frontal cortex from developing properly. The frontal cortex, which is responsible for impulse control and decision-making, isn’t fully developed until our early 20s.

So we are raising a generation addicted to the dopamine and adrenaline surge the digital world provides. And whose brains aren’t developing properly? A generation of kids Kardaras calls “uninterested and uninteresting.” They lack curiosity about the world and the people around them. All they want is to be entertained and stimulated in the ways to which they’ve become accustomed.

According to Karadas, kids shouldn’t be exposed to these addictive games until their brains are fully developed. And I agree with him. How sad that some children are missing out on developing the ability to experience joy through nature, relationships, creativity and curiosity.

How to Beat Screen Dependence

One of the ideas I come back to again and again is that our wellbeing depends on making intuitive, life-affirming choices. And that’s as important when it comes to screens as with anything else.

Here are some life-affirming choices you can make for yourself and your kids around screen time:

  • Place limits. Whether that means turning off all devices at 6 p.m. or literally setting a timer for how long you’ll be on social media, limits are key to a healthy relationship with technology. A survey of 14,000 men and women determined that people are happier if they watch TV or play video games less than 30 minutes each day and spend no more than one hour on social networks per day. Limits should be even stricter for kids.
  • Stop and smell the roses. When we are glued to a screen, we miss countless opportunities to savor the moment – the simple things that bring joy to life each day, the beauty in the people and life all around us. Put down your phone and experience the moment. Listen to the sounds, sights, and smells around you. Stay present.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. One of the keys to happiness is to avoid comparisons. Comparisons cripple our self-worth and lead us to make bad decisions. Yet when we’re constantly checking social media and seeing only other people’s highlights, it’s easy to fall into the comparison trap. Remind yourself that social media doesn’t tell anyone’s whole story.
  • Cultivate relationships. When we’re staring at a screen, we’re ignoring the people around us. On the surface it may seem like we’re investing in relationships by engaging in social media. And sometimes online-based friendships can be positive. But only if we’re developing deep, caring, healthy connections – and not neglecting the people right in front of us to do it.

The essence of The Healing Revolution® is the raw, potent, seductive energy of life that emanates from our hearts and souls, that binds each one of us together and to the earth. But we’re blind to it if we’re living in the screen in front of us, instead of the world around us.

Here’s an idea (using a little screen time) to help you and your family set proper limits on screen time. Have everyone in your family take the Whole Person Appraisal on our website. It’s free, it takes about 20 minutes to complete, and the answers you provide are confidential and individualized.

When finished, everyone can print out their personalized list of suggestions regarding how to become more balanced in all of the Eight Essentials of life.

Then, take a family walk (no cell phones!) and talk about your results. Discuss how, as a family, you can take steps to help each other do better in the Eight Essentials. Being healthy, having close, loving relationships, and helping each other succeed can be fun!

Enjoy the journey.

Dr. King