Today’s preteens and teens are drastically more stressed than the generations before them. Can this account for the increased usage of TV’s, laptops, social media, tablets, smartphones and i-pods? Parents are often stuck worried and wondering if these gadgets are hurting our next generation. While, technologies impact on the preteen/teen brain is a new area of study, we do continue to learn more on how the brain functions. Here are a few important considerations that will assist parents in creating a healthy balance for your preteen or teen, within our fast past technologically advanced culture:
Why a less stressed generation? There is an inordinate amount of research that consistently illustrates that today’s preteen/ teen is living in an alarmingly higher stressed environment than ever before. External factors that seem to play the largest roles in our children’s stress are: traumatic events, poor quality and chemicals in our foods, earlier onset of puberty vs. emotional maturity, vast social issues (body image, violence) displayed through various media vehicles, increased expectations in our learning environments and the increase of technology in a high paced society. As a result we are seeing an increase in emotional challenges, moderate to severe behaviors and other physical health issues.
With the increase in stressors and our understanding that survival for humans is based on decreasing and reducing the discomfort, the angst or pulling that accompanies the feeling of stress, we have to look at the basal ganglia within our brain. In the ground breaking book by Charles Duhigg, “The Power of Habit” offers significant insight explaining how the basal ganglia in our brain needs to imprint every behavior that has a reward associated with it. With time and repetition the brain creates the feeling of wanting and craving. For example, school is stressful and when I come home and turn on the TV my brain automatically shifts from the left to my right which releases endorphins causing my basal ganglia to say “OH this FEELS GOOD” and imprint is formed and the craving for more will increase with repetition. Thus watching TV after school becomes an addictive habit.
In terms of social media and texting, a hormone produced in our brain called Oxytocin is released. Paul Zak -a scientist at Claremore Graduate University in CA, describes this hormone as “the ‘moral molecule” that fosters trust, reciprocity, affection, empathy and love; a social glue that keeps society together.” Paul Zak, also states that interactions on Twitter and Facebook seem to lead to oxytocin spikes, which raises the argument that social media, is killing true human interaction. Hormonally our body processes these interactions in the same way that face to face connections do. This may also become imprinted by the basal ganglia and become addictive in nature.