Parenting Through Connection Blog

Brain Patterns and Tech

February 10, 2022

Brain Patterns and Tech

There is a rise in diagnosed anxiety in youth that many are attributing to the disrupted development following intermittent quarantine over the past couple years. While the pandemic is likely a contributor, it does not account for the rising number of diagnosed anxiety in youth leading up to the pandemic. It is possible increased wireless phone and tablet use was also a factor, but not just because of social comparison or sacrificing IRL time to tech. The most basic functions of the brain rely on IRL exposure in all situations so that we develop the confidence needed to know we will survive the present moment no matter what happens—our sense of agency.

Our brains develop to survive the environment in which they are developing. The brain relies on experiences to provide information to develop memories of patterns of events. Established patterns of events provide a likely script for how to respond in nearly any situation one might encounter. The predictability of our environment is reliant on these scripts to bolster a sense of confidence as we navigate life through hundreds of situations every day. Our sense of agency comes from that confidence and is the antithesis of anxiety.

When one has a lack of “scripts” from fewer detected patterns IRL there is no likely scenario that is enacted and repeated with success. As such, the brain enters planning stages to develop an ongoing list of “what do I do if this happens” for every possible situation. THIS is anxiety. It is distracting, overwhelming, and controlling in ways that can become unhealthy. Ultimately, the brain will try to avoid any situation that is unpredictable due to lack of information to determine if it can keep one emotionally and/or physically safe…because keeping us emotionally and physically safe is one of its main jobs.

As such, when we pick up our phone to check one text and then put it down hours later after getting sucked into a game and then social media and then email and then a texting session with a friend and then… These screens are interfering with the information the brain needs to develop a sense of agency. It is our job, as parents, to set the expectations around tech use…and to follow those guidelines ourselves.

Suggested Guidelines for Phone/Tablet Use:

1. Create a charging station in the home. This is where all electronics will “live” when not in use.

2. Tech will be “not in use” during the following situations:

o Social activities such as dinner, television/movie watching, game playing, walking the dog, car rides, and having guests over

o Doing work, such as chores and homework

o Overnight--past a specific time in the evening, preferably an hour or two before sleep

Let's talk about how to implement that in group!

Toxic Productivity and Perfectionism in Our Children

November 5, 2021

When was the last time you put together a puzzle? Created art…just to create art? Read a book for entertainment? When was the last time you did any of these things free of guilt?

Twenty years ago I was working for a retail bookstore that consulted with a company to increase employee productivity. They streamlined how we completed store tasks. “Touch a book once,” remains a thought in my head on a daily basis--when I’m running errands, cleaning my house, getting out of my car, and even guiding my child. This focus on efficiency toward increased productivity to make every minute of every day count has become a chronic condition.

I’ve observed a downward trend of people doing things that are enjoyable without a purpose other than enjoyment—puzzles, books, and artwork. In place, people seem to be working harder or engaging in distractions that overstimulate our brains without enhancing a skill, and often two at once. How many of you stream shows while playing games on an app?

While enjoyable behaviors appear to be decreasing, focus on productivity outside businesses seems to be increasing. Friends and clients complain about feeling lazy or even guilty if they are engaging in behaviors not considered productive, which seems to be defined as tasks that contribute to something outside the self. Even my creative friends who produce crafts or artwork are often encouraged to sell their items as if making money changes the time from wasted to worthwhile.

In a March 2021 interview on the topic of “toxic productivity,” Dr. Joanne Barron said, “Many of us have been raised in this culture and have learned that our self-worth is only based on what we do, not just our intrinsic value as humans.” Does this mean we feel unworthy when we engage in activities that do not contribute? It seems so, since we tend to label ourselves (and others) as selfish and experience discomfort or even guilt when we get downtime. More and more people are unsure what to do with downtime.

Down time, not distracted time, is extremely important for our brain. According to Ferris Jabr (2013), after researching the topic almost ten years ago, “Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life.” When we engage in downtime activities we are resetting/refreshing our brains. In a way, we are turning off some brain processes and activities to focus on other brain processes and activities that will enhance the brain processes and activities that are taking a break.

For example, have you ever tried to continue to vacuum when your vacuum cannister is full? Continuing to “be productive” beyond our abilities leads to a loss of information and the spilling over of emotional outbursts and other "crap," much like a full vacuum canister. We actually become not just unproductive, but counterproductive.

Why are video games, streaming shows, and playing apps not effective? They are mere distractions. It’s similar to putting the vacuum away with a full container and then using it again without emptying the cannister. A distraction is unable to refresh the brain.

As parents, it is our job to find and embrace downtime for several reasons, that include but are not limited to:

1. avoiding the blowing up of crap at or in front of our children (and others);

2. stop modeling the perfectionism that comes with toxic productivity; and,

3. model the use of downtime for emotional health.

How to notice you are suffering from toxic productivity:

· checking your emails/work apps before bed and/or upon waking

· eating while working

· viewing enjoyable activities as inconveniences

· struggling to adapt to changes in plans

· increased irritability

Tips to combat toxic productivity:

· Technology

o Put the phone down (and put your watch on airplane mode) when in social/family situations

§ Meals

§ Riding in the car

§ When in the presence of others

§ Watching television

o Clear ALL notifications related to work, rather have a work schedule for checking email and other work-related apps

· Eat at the dinner table

· Have a family game night (not electronic)

· Have art/science/outdoor activities regularly planned

· Read an hour before bed (something not work-related) and encourage your children to do the same

· Work out/move daily

· Use mindfulness

· Do nothing at all 😉

Treat yourself as you would have your child treat themselves. Recognize you are full or at capacity and provide time to reset and refresh.

Wiitten by Michelle A. Minette, MA, CHLC