‘Anti-dopamine parenting’ can curb a kid’s craving for screens or sweets

A good article about kids and dopamine.  Apps and sweets can hijack the neural pathways we need to survive, triggering tantrums and aggression.

The problem describes plenty of adults, too! It’s not actually happiness we feel when we fulfill that craving.

While she’s staring into the technicolor images, her brain experiences spikes in dopamine, over and over again. Those spikes keep her watching (even if she’s actually really tired and wants to go to bed).

Then I come into the room and say, “Time’s up, Rosy. Close the app and get ready for bed.” And although I’m ready for Rosy to quit watching, her brain isn’t. It’s telling her the opposite.

“The dopamine levels are still high,” Samaha explains. “And what does dopamine do? It tells you something important is happening, and there’s a need somewhere that you have to answer.”

And what am I doing? I’m preventing her from fulfilling this need, which her brain may elevate as being critical to her survival. In other words, a neural pathway made to ensure humans go seek out water when they’re thirsty is now being used to keep my 7-year-old watching yet another episode of a cartoon.

Not finishing this “critical” task can be incredibly frustrating for a kid, Samaha says, and “an agitation arises.” The child may feel irritated, restless, possibly enraged.

Because the spike in dopamine holds a child’s attention so strongly, parents are setting themselves up for a fight when they try to get them to do any other activity that triggers smaller spikes, such as helping parents clean up after dinner, finishing homework or playing outside.

“So I tell parents, ‘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,'” says Emily Cherkin, who spent more than a decade teaching middle school and now coaches parents about screens. —NPR

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