Addiction is no longer just about drugs. There are many forms of addiction and many things that adults and children can become addicted to. From Diet Coke to prescription medication, and from shopping to leaving the thermostat at a high temperature. OK, maybe that last one was just me because winter is cold, and I’m from a warm climate. However, technology addiction is becoming a very real addiction and one that is extremely difficult to break since we still need to use technology on a regular basis.
With drugs or alcohol, it can be easier to avoid since you are not required to be in places where those things are being used. With technology, it can be hard to separate yourself entirely from your vice. It is important to understand what causes technology addiction, and how you can best prevent it, since breaking the habit can be a long difficult road.
Addiction can happen when your body releases a chemical called dopamine that tells your brain it is experiencing something pleasurable. Once you experience this, your brain actively seeks out the thing that gave it the dopamine. When this pull from your brain starts to take over other feelings and emotions, you may be on the path to addiction.
Why Social Media is Addicting
When I was younger, it was difficult to know how popular you were in school. Sure, maybe you didn’t get picked on, maybe you were well liked, but you didn’t really know for sure. These days kids have quantifiable insight into how well liked they are. When one kid posts a picture that gets 10 likes, and another kid posts a picture that gets 100 likes, it’s a fact that the other kid’s picture was more popular. Every single like is another hit of dopamine to your brain. So your brain actively seeks to gain more followers, more likes, more proof that what you are doing is well received by your peers.
Gamification Encourages Use
Since apps make money in proportion to how many engaged users they have, they are encouraged to build in features that will give users that hit of dopamine. Gamification within apps is one of those features that can lead to addiction. Sometimes it can be just the motivation you need, and sometimes it can make you fall into serious addiction.
This kind of feature can be extremely motivating to help you break bad habits, or eat healthier. Reaching your goals several days in a row can motivate you to keep going on a day when you just aren’t feeling it. The hit of dopamine when you maintain a streak like that is powerful. You are being rewarded for making the right choices.
In March of 2016 Snapchat introduced a feature called streaks. Your streak continues if you send a snap to someone within a 24 hour period. The purpose of the snapstreak is just to see how long you can keep it going. You don’t win a prize, you don’t get anything, except for a little number and a flame emoji next to the name of the person you have the streak with.
I know of kids who will give their password to someone when they are grounded from their phones so their friend can keep their streaks going! They don’t want that number to hit zero again!
Notifications Keep Bringing You Back
When you are ready to free yourself of distractions and put your technology down, applications start sending you notifications. The siren call of a notification light blinking on your phone is extremely powerful.
How Can You Combat Technology Addiction
If you find yourself craving the hit of dopamine you get from these apps and social media platforms, or if your children are displaying signs of technology addiction, it may be time to take some drastic measures to prevent it from affecting other areas of your family’s life.
- Give yourself or your children time limits – Don’t just install software like Boomerang on your children’s devices, it can help break addiction in your own technology use. If you only give yourself a certain amount of time for specific applications that keep drawing you in, you can help break yourself from the addiction.
- Turn off notifications – If you know that notifications are irresistible to you or your children, turn off the notifications. You can usually do this inside the application itself, but if those options are limited you can disable the app from sending notifications in the settings of the phone itself.
- Don’t allow streaks – When your child is getting a little obsessive about keeping their streaks alive, give them a rule that says they can’t have streaks above a certain number like 10. Each time they hit that number they will have to go back to zero. This will prevent them from getting addicted to keeping those streaks alive.
- Use other rewards – Since what you are really craving is the dopamine hit in your brain, find other ways to reward your good behavior. Download an app that will give you a reward for NOT picking up your phone for extended periods of time. Use a habit tracker to give you streaks for NOT looking at Instagram during the day. Use a sticker chart to help your child curb a technology addiction. There are many different rewards you can come up with that will help you break these habits.
While it may be nearly impossible to remove technology from our lives completely, there are ways we can limit its effect on our brains if we are aware of the reasons we keep coming back to it. Knowledge about the tactics used to keep us involved with each application will go a long way to helping live without the powerful addiction of technology.