Kids on dopamine or how to deal with iPad addicted children


Most parents will notice that children love playing with the iPad. Or the Xbox or PlayStation, a mobile phone or anything else that has a screen combined with a touch pad or controller. Compared to what their parents were playing with before (think Nintendo and SEGA) today’s devices are another level for speed and screen resolution.

And often children are showing an attention span when playing on those devices that their teachers at school can only dream of. My son is here no exception. I asked him whom he loves more, his iPad or mom and dad. He told me his iPad but that mom and dad come a close second. He also shows motor skills on the racing games I don’t even have and thanks to Gran Turismo knows every cool sports car in the world.

His extensive use of Steve Job’s brain child, the infamous iPad, has become a concern for me though. I believe that kids (and their parents) are actually addicted. Let me proof this. If you drink every day and you can’t stop for a short time even, we say you’re addicted. How may days can you live without WeChat or WhatsApp? Looking around in China the use of people staring on their phones is no short of an epidemic.

During our vacation last summer, we were sitting at a restaurant in Southern France that was situated at a beautiful spot over the Mediterranean, we had a great view and food was excellent. Opposite from me was a group of tourists from China, six people at a table all watching their mobile phones. If you don’t call this an addiction – flying for twelve hours to sit at the Cote de Azur to constantly watch your phone – I need to go back and redefine addiction.

People are actually addicted as the human body starts to produce dopamine. This neurotransmitter can be a great tool as it makes your body happy and euphoric – it helps you for example in sports to run faster and longer than you even thought you could. It also gets students enthusiastic with work they actually like. Only that without their iPad kids start to miss their dopamine, and that’s when the crying begins.

Now I don’t want to start to sound old fashioned but I was living with my friends and brothers next to a huge forest and we got our dopamine from playing outside building castles in the trees. That was at a time when my mom still had a rotary phone so its unrealistic to believe we’ll have the good old times back ever. But I’m convinced that getting dirty when running through the mud is timeless fun and the iPad for our kids just a surrogate.

Another reason for staring at a computer screen for hours is insecurity. People start to drink and get addicted as they are lonely and miss other people around them. And in a city like Shanghai there is not a lot of mud for our kids to run through or trees to climb on, and often the school friends are living an hour drive away although the distance might not even be so far away, but the city traffic doesn’t allow for a quick drive or walk over.

And that’s one of the reasons I never took away the iPad completely as its hard to offer him a spare time activity at all times. Yet as with kids, we need to define daily routines and offer them guidance. Setting time slots where they can use it, and when this is not allowed. Those routines need to be strictly followed by everyone in the family and any media usage (by parents and children) during breakfast or dinner should be taboo.

Also try to offer your child chances to play outside whenever you can. Back home where we have a park and garden his iPad use drastically goes down. Or in Shanghai, go with your kids to a nearby nature getaway. I guarantee they won’t miss it.

Then also keep in mind that company’s main goal is making money, also via their Apps and in- App purchases. You can provide your child with an  ID for children that is linked to yours and doesn’t allow them to buy anything from iTunes without your consent. Also try to make sure they only use child adequate content and don’t browse harmful sites or share personal information.

I suggest that you start with yourself and give it a little try, living without your mobile phone for some time. No WeChat or Facebook for a day. If you are able to battle your own addiction you already have an idea how that will be for your child. And if you are no good role model, you can’t really expect your child to see an iPad as what it is: a mere tool for entertainment. Try it! I did – your day becomes a lot more relaxed!

And to those who think they need to be always reachable I say you don’t. The only one that needs to be available at all times is the waitress.