2021 | Week of August 30 | Radio Transcript #1427
Report after report says anxiety and stress, including depression, are becoming major problems for Americans, especially younger Americans.
I was in a discussion recently with a nurse who was looking at college applications and noted how many of the incoming students are indicating they were experiencing stress and anxiety. The number was noticeably higher than in previous years.
Some, when asked to elaborate, said they were stressed about starting school or were experiencing issues at home; but a good number indicated that social media was at least part of why they were stressed and anxious.
This anecdotal information shouldn’t surprise anyone. Christians have long been warning parents about digital devices and social media, mostly from the perspective of how pervasive addictive vices such as pornography and gambling are online or how susceptible teen girls in particular are to sex traffickers masquerading as supposedly “nice guys.” And these are certainly real and important aspects of online access.
But more and more, concerned secular experts are warning that digital devices and resulting screen time, whether social media or something else, are affecting the mental health of users, especially young people.
Earlier this month, Anna Lembke, a psychiatrist and a professor at Stanford University wrote an article published at 423 Communities International. The title of the article is telling: “Digital Addictions Are Drowning Us in Dopamine.” She tells of a young man who came to her because of anxiety and depression. He’d even “vaguely” contemplated suicide. She learned this twenty-something was playing video games every day for long hours and late into every night. She recommended “abstain[ing] from all screens, including video games, for one month.” He complied, and a month later reported said he was happier and more optimistic than he had been in a long time.
Dr. Lembke says the problem is “too much dopamine, a chemical produced in the brain that functions as a neurotransmitter, associated with feelings of pleasure and reward.” Doing things we enjoy, like being online with social media or playing video games, causes the brain to release a small amount of dopamine, causing us to feel good. As the brain tries to bring things back into balance, we experience pain—or what we might call a downer. To get the good feeling again, we do something we enjoy—and when doing that something to excess, like hours and hours on digital devices, the brain never has time to really regulate. Thus, when we aren’t doing the things we enjoy, we experience anxiety and depression.
Her patient swearing off all digital devices for a month gave his brain time to function normally without the constant dopamine feed. Now he is able to use digital devices, and even play some video games, but with significant boundaries on when and how long.
Now, maybe we aren’t all video-gamers, especially not in excess; but almost everyone today has a smartphone, which Dr. Lembke says is “the equivalent of the hypodermic needle for a wired generation.” Think about that; what we are being told is addiction to digital devices is as potent as taking a drug. Breaking those habits can be extremely difficult, even for fully mature adults. Imagine how tough it is for kids.
I am amazed at the number of people in my circle of friends, family and acquaintances who grab their phones the second it dings indicating an email, voice mail or text message. We’re like Pavlov’s dog. Conditioned responses that become addictive behaviors. And we are seeing this more and more in teens and even younger children.
Parents, I urge you to rethink the access your children have to digital devices. Do they really need a smartphone in junior high? Or would a phone that actually just calls and maybe texts do what you want it to do—keep your child in touch with you? Do you have family rules regarding technology that everyone, including you, lives by? Do you have a good filter on every device? Have you used the parental controls available on devices? Have you talked to your teen about the good, bad, and ugly of technology and the Internet? Do you have device free times and areas? Are you making sure kids don’t have phones or other devices in their rooms? You’re not being a mean parent when you do these things; you are loving your kids and helping them avoid major problems.
We all need to take measures to keep our minds free of anxiety, stress, and depression. That’s not God’s plan for us. Exercising discipline with and getting control of our digital devices is definitely worth considering.
This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council reminding you the prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”