What do techies know that we don’t?

The post I wrote yesterday about how our brains are being flooded with dopamine and how social media and screens are negatively affecting our health, reminded me of a blog post I wrote a few years ago about how the high tech geniuses in the Silicon Valley won’t allow their children to have any screen time at all. Zero. They obviously know something they aren’t telling the rest of us.

brother and sister showing off super powers
Robert and Kat showing off their super powers way before social media.

Here’s what I wrote about Silicon Valley parents a few years ago:

Talk about hypocrites. I read the strangest story about parents who live in the Silicon Valley. They refuse to let their kids see or touch iPhones or any screens of any nature. These are parents who work in the high tech world and themselves use the devices. While they are at work, they hire nannies to shield their kids from the heinous devices they work to create.

Then to even go further, they make nannies sign contracts that they will keep them away from screens. They also hire spies to snoop on their nannies at parks to make sure they don’t cheat and check their phones. Maybe it’s because they understand how miserable the phones are making their lives, that they want to keep their kids’ lives free from tech. Or maybe they know something we don’t about how unhealthy these screens are.

Here are a few excerpts from the article I read in sfgate called Silicon Valley Nannies are Phone Police for Kids:

SAN FRANCISCO — Silicon Valley parents are increasingly obsessed with keeping their children away from screens. Even a little screen time can be so deeply addictive, some parents believe, that it’s best if a child neither touches nor sees any of these glittering rectangles. These particular parents, after all, deeply understand their allure.

But it’s very hard for a working adult in the 21st century to live at home without looking at a phone. And so, as with many aspirations and ideals, it’s easier to hire someone to do this.

Enter the Silicon Valley nanny, who each day returns to the time before screens.

“Usually a day consists of me being allowed to take them to the park, introduce them to card games,” Jordin Altmann, 24, a nanny in San Jose, said of her charges. “Board games are huge.”

“Almost every parent I work for is very strong about the child not having any technical experience at all,” Altmann said. “In the last two years, it’s become a very big deal.”

From Cupertino to San Francisco, a growing consensus has emerged that screen time is bad for kids. It follows that these parents are now asking nannies to keep phones, tablets, computers and TVs off and hidden at all times. Some are even producing no-phone contracts, which guarantee zero unauthorized screen exposure, for their nannies to sign.

The fear of screens has reached the level of panic in Silicon Valley. Vigilantes now post photos to parenting message boards of possible nannies using cellphones near children. Which is to say, the very people building these glowing hyper-stimulating portals have become increasingly terrified of them. And it has put their nannies in a strange position.

“In the last year everything has changed,” said Shannon Zimmerman, a nanny in San Jose who works for families that ban screen time. “Parents are now much more aware of the tech they’re giving their kids. Now it’s like, ‘Oh no, reel it back, reel it back.’ Now the parents will say ‘No screen time at all.’”

The bright side is these parents do care about their kids. They want what is best for them. I wonder if they use their electronics while they are at home? Do they put away the iphones at dinner? Do the parents realize that their kids will model their behavior and learn most from what they do, not what they say?

brother and sister playing cowboy
My cowboys using their imaginations.

Do you think the Silicon Valley parents have known all along how dangerous and addictive screen time is? Or, is it a personal choice not to let their kids on screens? Are they wanting their kids to have the idealized life before computers? Do you or did you limit screen time for your kids?

Is it time for a digital detox?

early ipod
I remember when my kids’ only high tech device was this ipod to listen to music and the computer below that was not hooked up to the internet. They used disks with children’s activities for the Mac.
Bondi Blue Mac from 1998.

I was interviewed by a journalist last week for a survey about the state of American families. She reads my blog and interviewed me for a story a few years ago about parents hiring coaches to improve their parenting. You can read her article called Why some parents — including Prince Harry and his wife — are hiring parenting coaches HERE.

Last week, she asked me about major problems facing families today. I mentioned the rising costs to raise a family and also worries about the digital world, screen time and depression. I’ve read so many articles about how social media and screen time is causing depression and anxiety in our kids. The numbers are skyrocketing. Add that to the pandemic and kids literally had a year of isolation and not being with their peers.

Immediately after the interview, I ran across an article in the Wall Street Journal called: Digital Addictions Are Drowning Us in Dopamine. The article gives a scientific explanation for what is happening to our brains. I found it fascinating and thought I’d share it with you, too.

Here’s an excerpt:

Rising rates of depression and anxiety in wealthy countries like the U.S. may be a result of our brains getting hooked on the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure

By Anna Lembke, Wall Street Journal

—Dr. Lembke is a psychiatrist and professor at Stanford University. This essay is adapted from her new book “Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence,” which will be published on Aug. 24 by Dutton.

A patient of mine, a bright and thoughtful young man in his early 20s, came to see me for debilitating anxiety and depression. He had dropped out of college and was living with his parents. He was vaguely contemplating suicide. He was also playing videogames most of every day and late into every night.

Twenty years ago the first thing I would have done for a patient like this was prescribe an antidepressant. Today I recommended something altogether different: a dopamine fast. I suggested that he abstain from all screens, including videogames, for one month.

Over the course of my career as a psychiatrist, I have seen more and more patients who suffer from depression and anxiety, including otherwise healthy young people with loving families, elite education and relative wealth. Their problem isn’t trauma, social dislocation or poverty. It’s too much dopamine, a chemical produced in the brain that functions as a neurotransmitter, associated with feelings of pleasure and reward.

The article helped me understand the physical issues with screens that are affecting us — as much as the emotional problems with feeling left out, bullied, comparing yourself to the make-believe social media world. Although these issues with mental health affect mostly young people, I’m sure it’s not limited to their generation entirely.

To answer my own question, “Is it time for a digital detox?” I say yes. I’m trying to find little ways each day to put down the phone or other media and do something healthy. Whether it’s sitting outside listening and watching birds, or taking time to stretch, there are ways to make it a better day and improve mental health.

Here’s another excerpt:

As soon as dopamine is released, the brain adapts to it by reducing or “downregulating” the number of dopamine receptors that are stimulated. This causes the brain to level out by tipping to the side of pain, which is why pleasure is usually followed by a feeling of hangover or comedown. If we can wait long enough, that feeling passes and neutrality is restored. But there’s a natural tendency to counteract it by going back to the source of pleasure for another dose.

If we keep up this pattern for hours every day, over weeks or months, the brain’s set-point for pleasure changes. Now we need to keep playing games, not to feel pleasure but just to feel normal. As soon as we stop, we experience the universal symptoms of withdrawal from any addictive substance: anxiety, irritability, insomnia, dysphoria and mental preoccupation with using, otherwise known as craving.

red cardinal on bird feeder
I like to sit outside and enjoy listening to and watching birds.

What do you view as the major issues facing families today?

What are your thoughts about the physical and chemical changes in the brain causing an addiction to social media, screens, video games, etc.? Have you heard about this before or is it a new concept to you?

How much time do you spend on social media like facebook, pinterest or other news sites?