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Why Teen Brains Are Susceptible To Screen Addiction

Hey teenagers, do you want some more things to be anxious about?

Screen addiction has become a real problem in recent years. With multiple screens in every room at any time, each offering endless amounts of information, it can be hard to tear yourself away from the endless deluge of stimulus. Gone is the night-time routine of reading a good book - replaced with the evening ritual of lying in bed and staring into a glowing brick for two hours.

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Australian Author David Gillespie’s new book ‘Teen Brain’, outlines that teenagers are the most susceptible to screen addiction. He explains that all humans receive the brain chemical dopamine as a ‘reward pathway’.

“When we see, think of, or interact with things that are good for our survival – like sex, water, food, social acceptance… a relatively small group of neurons in the lower center of the brain generates an electric current. That current travels down the axon… and stimulates release of an ‘I want that’ chemical messenger called dopamine.”

A lot of online activities simulate dopamine-inducing situations. Computer games simulate danger and social media simulates being liked by others. So, we will continue to repeat these activities in order to get more of that sweet sweet dopamine - and in turn, this dopamine chase can lead to addiction.

Thankfully a lot of adults have impulse control, we know when we have had enough and can stop. Once past the age of 25 human brains are fully developed and are capable of impulse control. But teenagers, whose brains are still developing don’t have the same impulse control and are more susceptible to addiction.

“An adolescent’s impulse-control module is still under construction. Crucially, this is the bit they’re working on from puberty through to their mid-20s, and this can be very bad news for their ability to avoid addiction, anxiety and depression”

One strangely-positive outcome from this screen addiction is a decline in previous problems, such as smoking, drinking, drug-taking, sex leading to teenage pregnancy. But as Gillespie points out, that doesn’t mean we are completely in the clear.

“The bad news is that a whole raft of addictions has taken their place. Whereas once the dopamine-hungry brain of a teenager got its fix from smoking a joint or sculling a Bundy and coke, it is now turning to electronic devices for the pleasure jolt that typically comes from playing online games (if you're a boy) and engaging with social media (if you're a girl). What is even more troubling is that, unlike drugs, alcohol and cigarettes, electronic devices are not illicit. Quite the contrary. They are liberally distributed by schools and parents, with few restrictions placed on their use.”

But hope is not lost, David has a whole bunch of effective strategies for parents to help their children break their online obsession.

We chat to the author of ‘Teen Brain’ David Gillespie tonight on The Project and you can find his book here.