As parents of babies, we intuitively work on the premise that they are vulnerable. As they get older, their vulnerabilities change, but they are not necessarily less life-threatening. This vulnerability is revealed as they search for their place in the group they are a part of, their desire to be accepted sometimes overpowering their personal values. Learning to balance healthy personal risk as they navigate their need for acceptance by the group, with their individual identity, is a crucial developmental goal.
Our role as protectors, guiding them, setting limits and boundaries and nurturing them when they need comfort, remains all important into the teen years.
As it turns out, the creators of the online products that our children are so drawn to, are more than happy to take this role out of our hands, and because they have made it their business to understand the social challenges facing our children, they focus on creating products which speak directly to children at a very deep level.
The digital world offers your child, who is busy finding its place in a complex, overwhelming social environment, four key things, that are unconsciously super-attractive to them:
Control – In the digital world, we get to interact with a simplified version of reality – one where we have more control over how we express ourselves, and thus experience less risk in how we are perceived.
Certainty – In a game or on social media, we either have a task to complete or simplified feedback (likes/shares) as a result of our engagement, which gives us certainty as to how cause relates to effect.
Reward – As there is always another level to finish, person to kill, car to crash or social media post to create or like, our brains take satisfaction from the next simple, clear step.
Escape – Adolescents are biologically wired for boredom, evolutionarily designed to drive them to explore new experiences and take new risks, in order to develop new skills. Coupled with social anxiety as they figure out where they fit in the social ladder and the stress of ever-increasing workloads and expectations, digital devices offer a pause button on dealing with all of those difficult and uncomfortable feelings that necessarily go with growing up and figuring out who you are.
We can’t make the growing up process easier, but we can keep walking alongside our children, helping them to develop healthier digital diets. Sharing this neuroscience with your tweens and teens can help with the pushback against unexplained limits.
Taking them behind the scenes and revealing the “Big Techs’ playbook” on manipulation might encourage more conscious digital use by your children. How about you?
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