Former lawyer David Gillespie is devoted to exposing dangerous social forces.
In his new book Teen Brains, the father of six exposes the addictive impact of technology on our children and how it’s making our kids anxious and depressed.
It’s not a comfortable subject. No parent wants to have to be the one to tell their kids they can only have a flip phone, that there’s no gaming at all, and the computer can only be used under supervision in a public space.
But if you want your kids to be mentally healthy, David believes you have to take a hard line. No more demand feeding of technology!
So how is technology use correlated with addiction’s subsequent negative impacts on adolescent mental health?
‘It’s how addiction works. It pushes the dopamine out of whack’ says David.
‘When you increase the dopamine you get addiction. When you decrease the serotonin you get depression. The traditional forms of addiction have been dropping like a stone, things like drugs and sex, but anxiety and depression have had a sharp increase.’
In Teen Brains, David illustrates how gaming and social media stimulate dopamine stimulation and reactions in young brains, which leads to addictive online behaviour.
‘The self-reinforcing feedback nature of dopamine (the more we get, the less it works and the more we want), means unfettered access to a good supply can quickly develop into addiction and if that happens during puberty it will be laid down as part of the hard wiring of our brain and will be very difficult to change for the rest of your life.
‘Software is explicitly written to addict teenagers,’ says David. Many platforms are free, and this often gives them the illusion that they serve some greater good, but David is suspicious.
‘When you have a free product, the business model is addict the audience, sell the audience.’
Girls rewarded with approval, boys for danger
Not all software is addictive. ‘The vast majority of software isn’t addictive, but there is a small group that is. Anything that gives instant feedback on user posts is hooking up to how we know the oxytocin works in teenage girls. They get rewarded for approval. Boys get rewarded by danger. No-one is addicted to Excel. But they are addicted to things like Instagram.’
One of the challenges for parents trying to curb their teenagers’ use of devices is that schools now supply them to students. It’s an educational push that kids need technological literacy.
But David doesn’t buy it.
He believes it’s part of the business model of getting kids addicted. Schools, he believes, have unwittingly become the dealers, making rule setting at home very difficult for parents, especially this generation of permissive parents. In Teen Brains, David looks at our parenting styles, our push away from controlled crying and scheduled feeding routines to ‘demand feeding’.
David believes that this sets up our kids very early on to realise that if they make a loud enough noise they can manipulate us to get what they want. From very early on, many parents have not been in control of their kids!
‘You have to say “NO” and mean it. If a child is used to a parent who has never said “NO”, they will go harder and stronger. They know if you keep going they will say “Yes” eventually’.
Taking it back to birth shows the parenting confidence of demand feeders to those who didn’t.
‘The earlier you get in the habit of saying “NO” the easier it gets’ says David.
David’s message is not one loved by kids. However he says ‘educators, parents, and administrators love it.’
‘I say to educators, you want it gone too, and they say the school parents want it but both these groups say they hate it as the supervision requirement is multiplied by 30.
‘We have politicians making decisions about what parents or educators want.’
David Gillespie will be talking about his book Teen Brains at the Byron Writers Festival this weekend.
For tickets to sessions go to byronwritersfestival.com.