It’s been a problem for years and it’s been made even worse over the past month with the introduction of Pokemon Go. But why are our children so obsessed with their screens? And why can’t they switch off? Turns out, there is a scientific reason for this.

It’s all in the brain.

We’ve all been in a situation where we try to take the iPad off our child only to be greeted with tears and a tantrum. This reaction is actually a neurobiological response and it is quite surprising just what iPad time could be doing to your child’s brain.

Dopamine dependence

Dopamine, or the happy neurotransmitter, is released when playing iPad. So when we ask kids to switch off devices, we’re terminating their supply of dopamine and this is why children often appear frustrated, angry and irritable after they’ve been ‘screening’. They’re having dopamine withdrawals.

The state of flow 

When playing iPad, watching TV or doing any other screen-like activity, children enter a type of trance where they are so engrossed in the activity that they can lose track of time and their surroundings. This state is known as the  ‘psychological state of flow’.

And thus, when we tell them to switch off, this state of flow is disrupted and thus they feel frustrated. Cue tantrum.

The never-ending game

The world of screens is never ending. There is always another episode to watch, another level to get to, another app to download, another video to YouTube. And, as there is no finish line, children are left feeling incomplete. Other activites, such as colouring in a page, reading a book or playing soccer, have an ending – once the page has been coloured, the book has ended or the timer has gone off.

With the iPad there is always more. And children can’t resist.

No one can resist the novelty

The instant rewards, the constant movement, the stimulating graphics – it’s like a sugar rush for your brain. And it’s no wonder children cannot get enough. The real world doesn’t move this fast or offer instant reward in the same way the online world does. And thus, it makes sense that a child is going to choose the former.

What Can we Do? 

First and foremost, give your child plenty of warning that screen time is ending. This helps them to exit this state of flow and to prepare the brain for a new activity.

Use a timer which is an outside source and much easier to obey than your word. Whenever I tell my kids it’s been five minutes they question it and say it’s only been three minutes. Timers don’t lie. Sorry kids.

And, most importantly, keep them entertained in other ways, especially through outdoor activity. You don’t have to be hunting for Pokemon to enjoy the great outdoors.