Has the conversation surrounding screen time become a battle in your household? Do your kids spend more time with their faces buried in screens rather than buried in books? How do we tackle this epidemic of screen addiction and magnetism of young kids to forms of passive entertainment?
Timmerie welcomed Melanie Hempe, founder of Screen Strong and author of The Screen Strong Solution, onto Trending with Timmerie to discuss the science behind screen addiction and possible solutions for parents.
Screen Strong is an organization that offers alternative paths for parents and children to take in this digital world. Their programs give parents the tools they need to lead their children effectively and expose them to the benefits of freedom from screen addiction. Their comprehensive program consists of the community of Screen Strong families, an educational course for parents, a detox challenge for kids, and Melanie Hempe’s book, The Screen Strong Solution. Together, these resources provide the structure that struggling families need to break the trance of digital media.
Melanie began by talking about her own family story and what caused her to take up this campaign against screen addiction. She is a registered nurse, wife, and mother to four children, so she thought everything was under control. “I thought I knew what I was doing in this whole area,” she said. Her children were excellent students and as long as they came home with straight A’s, everything seemed fine. However, her son was gradually becoming addicted to video games, and she didn’t even notice. The first year he went off to college, he dropped out.
Melanie pointed out that since this is the first time a lot of students are out from under their parents’ rooves, they have no restrictions on their screen usage. They get out of control and sink deeper into any addiction they might already have. In response to this shocking turn of events, Melanie founded Screen Strong so that she could make other parents aware of this challenge and help them avoid the same issues she went through.
“Back then, 8 or 9 years ago, you know, it was sort of a bad word to say, ‘video game addiction’, but now everybody knows what that is,” said Melanie. This growing reliance on screen-based technologies is influencing our dependencies and it’s not going unnoticed. Melanie traveled across the countries to attend conferences and do research on the neuroscience behind this addiction and build her organization. Melanie gave all of her children talk/text phones and did not give them smartphones until they went to college. She also got rid of all the video games in the house.
While this drastic move is not necessary for all parents and their families, Melanie had no choice. She had gone the route of screen privilege freedom and it had not turned out well. Now, she leaves nothing to chance. After doing so much research and attending these lectures, Melanie concluded that the main issue was that parents were treating their children as miniature adults. They want to help them grow and to do that they begin giving them more responsibilities and more freedoms. However, the executive function center of a child’s brain is not fully developed. Because that center has not matured, kids have trouble controlling their impulses, in this case, their desires to play video games or be entertained. Those forms of entertainment cause the brain to release dopamine, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter.
What do you get when you combine poor impulse control with a pleasure-inducing neurotransmitter? Addiction. Kids will gravitate towards that type of experience again and again, even if you put obstacles in their way. That’s why kids will do well in school, cooperate, even excel in other areas, as long as they know that that bargaining chip of their favorite activity is on the table.
“If you just hear one thing tonight, write this down: Intelligence is not maturity. Our kids are smart, and I really fell for this one. Boy, did I fall for it. My son was so smart, and I thought he was mature because he was smart.” Melanie associated her son’s intelligence with his ability to moderate his activity, but he just wasn’t capable because he was a kid. Melanie’s main goal with Screen Strong and The Screen Strong Solution is to educate parents about the ways they can help their kids moderate their habits. There are virtues and there are vices and there is no greater responsibility as a parent than imparting the virtues and diminishing the vices.
Listen to the full interview below:
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