Children are Monsters!… How to get your teenager back
Dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for our motivations. When we see a bright bag of chips in the supermarket, our dopamine spikes, giving us the energy to reach out and grab the bag.
Our bodies do this because we know that a bag of chips has a large amount of calories inside, which will keep us alive. When we do a lot of stimulating activities and even eat certain foods, like chocolate, we get a dopamine hit. This hit keeps us coming back, and coming back more and more over time.
As we return more and more, the effect that we feel diminishes. Suddenly we need to repeat the activity more to feel normal, and eventual escalate behaviour to feel normal (as opposed to feeling sad and low).
This cycle repeats each time we have a spike of dopamine, the come down is equivalent.
WHERE it comes from
This motivation chemical is all around us. Every time we do something for our survival it is the fuel pushing us forward,
to the good and the bad…
These days, with children mostly indoors and on their screens we are missing the vast opportunities right outside our doors to make positive dopaminergic connections. Here’s one reason that is an issue…We are in a world where companies and industries are weaponizing our emotions and opinions to sell products. The issue is, this also influences our dreams and desires, they are programming how we think.
HOW it influences us
In fact, television has a similar effect, dimming the mind!
It turns out that dopamine was only discovered in the late 1950s! At first dopamine was believed to only effect the physical body, as studies on Parkinsonism discovered that patients had low levels of dopamine in their systems. (Here is a more modern study, with similar findings)
As more studies emerged, it became obvious that dopamine was responsible for much more than this!
Upon reading sections of this study something else struck me, neuroscientist Wolfram Schultz discovered that prediction of reward, over time, actually diminished the dopamine reward in rats. When water dropped randomly, dopamine was released in the rats. However, when this ‘random’ event continued over time, the dopamine release stopped being triggered. In other words, continually rewarding behaviour takes the joy out of the random reward. Interesting little chemical…
WHEN it’s a problem
A similar study was conducted with children, giving them an award for drawing. Children who had previously been self motivated in their drawing actually lost enjoyment, and stopped doing the activity. The external stimuli, the external motivator of a gold sticker on a piece of paper, killed their motivation… Something previously enjoyed became a chore.
Mix this lack of motivation with adhd like symptoms from the tv, and then think again about a lot of the issues with our young people. . . It all sounds too familiar…
To go a level deeper, a study found that watching negative content while in a depressive mood adds to the disillusion. Now for more alarm, studies into the effect of violent viewing have found this indulgence increases aggression. Thinking about video games like fortnite, not to mention the entertainment being viewed, and it’s no wonder that the local high school has an instagram full of fights…
WHAT can any of this teach us?
This study showed that stimulants such as methylphenidate (street name ritalin) actually improved motivation by changing the perceived reward-vs-cost in the difficult mental activity required. Here is a more in depth write up of the findings.
Much like the experiments mentioned earlier, where the children were rewarded for drawing, I see this data in the same way. I have seen that with altering the dopamine in the diet and through screens, that motivations and larger mental efforts can be achieved in a short period of time.
By rewiring our dopamine systems, we can regain control of our motivations. With our children, we can limit their access to some of these influences, and teach them about their minds. Our children deserve the right to a fair chance, and to have their minds as free as possible.
The only way to help our children is to be there for them. It all comes down to time and relationship. We need to be able to see these problems and issues coming, we need to be on guard for them. There’s snakes and wolves out there…
SO, what do we do?
It feels like shameless self promotion, but I would either:
It really just depends how much you can be around your children.
That’s where we notice the possible issues, and can talk with them!
These things do and can get better.
It takes time and commitment.
But it is possible to turn these things around.
Just don’t give up! 🙂