Monday, February 27, 2012

Teens: Why Logging On is a Turn-On Parents Need to Turn Off

Social biologist Dalton Conley states that youth who multi-task in multiple media (gaming, texting, Facebooking) derive high degrees of pleasure because the brain releases dopamine -- a neurotransmitter that produces pleasure -- which then creates a "forward-feeding cycle" in which youth pay more and more attention to texts, instant messaging, posts on social media sites, etc. The intense focus spent on media erodes teens' ability to focus on schoolwork that requires sustained attention: writing, reading, problem-solving.

Children and teens who have pre-existing social-emotional problems are far more likely to become compulsively involved in media. Young people who lack appropriate social skills, who feel disconnected and alienated from their peer group, who are unable to initiate and sustain relationships, receive little if any meaningful benefit from their relationship to technology.

For many families with children/teens with special needs, computers, video games, and other technology are perceived as an essential part of their involvement or connection to the world. Although youth with special needs are certainly drawn to technology, the involvement is not essential. The problem for many parents is when they consider limiting their child's access to media and technology and are confronted with a daunting problem:

What will they do with their kids instead?

Unplugging children/teens from electronic entertainment and social media will bring on protests, complaints and tantrums. Parents will need to structure and plan leisure and recreation activities for their children, a necessity that is sure to feel challenging when faced with an angry kid.

However, the rough terrain that lies ahead for parents who choose to limit or eliminate access to electronic entertainment and social media is worth the effort. It requires young people with social-emotional deficits to live in reality and to become competent in reality, instead of living in perpetual fantasy.

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