By Anonymous High School Student

Screens are some of the most addictive products on the market, sharing the top of charts with nicotine and morphine. But what makes them so addictive? Why do we have to force ourselves to put our phones down, and why do we pick them back up at the first notification?

The answer is simple: it’s all in our heads. Like with drugs, using a screen sets off a pleasure/reward cycle in your brain. As you use a screen, dopamine is released in your brain, which results in weakened impulse control. Dopamine is the hormone responsible for driving and reinforcing habits, so the dopamine release given from screens results in a sort of addiction to those screens, in a dopamine feedback loop similar to those in the brains of cocaine users. Every notification of a post, reward in a game, or like received floods a person’s brain with a dose of dopamine, but that feel-good moment does not last long. Almost immediately, the brain longs for another dose of the “drug,” leaving the user longing for another reward, like, or notification. And it’s all on purpose. Tech companies purposefully make technology addictive under the preface that they simply wish to “maximize engagement.”

Dimitri Christakis of Seattle Children’s Hospital wanted to test the effects of screens on mice. He took baby mise and placed them under constant stimulation for a month and a half, playing music from children’s cartoons, like “Pokémon”, and showing them flashing lights that catch their attention. After this stimulation, Christakis runs the mice through a series of tests and mazes. The results show that the overstimulated mice are far less able than normal mice to pay attention to new objects and remember things. The consequences of this study are clear, allowing developing minds to spend extended time on technology will negatively impact them in the long run. Christopher Hammond, a researcher in the psychology field at Johns Hopkins University, speaks of the dramatic effects of taking screens away from adolescents, “In my clinic I’ve had seen pre-adolescents and adolescents where the parent has tried to take away their video gaming console and they have had an outburst that destroyed the house… I’ve had teens where their phones were taken away and, as a reaction, the teen has made a suicide attempt.”

For more information on breaking out of screen addictions, look out for future blogs and check out this blog.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How long do you think you could go with absolutely no screens? What reasons could you have to refuse to give them up, and can you think of solutions to those problems that don’t require screens?
  2. Turn off all of your unnecessary notifications for a week, including all social media and games. After the week, reflect. Did you go on your phone less? Were you able to put it down for longer durations of time?
  3. How do you feel if you post on social media and don’t receive as much interaction as you want? Why do you think that is?
  4. Do you do a good job of balancing your screen time? What other things can you add to your routine to lower your time spent on screens?
  5. Do you think social media use improves or worsens conditions such as depression and anxiety? How do you think it affects mental health in general and for you personally?
  6. Have you ever used a device for longer than you intend to? Why/why not?


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