I’ve been experiencing some discomfort lately as I unpack and try to put back together my thoughts and feelings about screen time and social media. I have always been extremely supportive of neurodivergent people’s needs and rights to access tech for communication, friendships, and fun. I defend against screen shaming adults whining about young people’s use of screens

And yet, the discomfort lies in unpacking my own use of technology. I’m AD(H)D and thanks to conversations with friends with similar and different brains, and some extra reading, I’ve begun to understand my own neurobiology better.

Although I can’t know for sure, I suspect that like many neurodivergent folk, I seek out activities that increase the dopamine in my brain.

I’m endlessly calm in a crisis or in the face of a looming deadline, I loooove discovering new things, and I get a sense of perfect calm infront of a computer.

My own seeking out of dopamine-increasing activities is not for pleasure or thrill.  It’s to create focus, calm, and alertness that are missing when I first wake up in the morning and when I get stuck in mundane tasks. It’s also an unsconscious seeking, undertaken without intention, as a necessity.

On top of that, part of being me (autistic info-loving Bri) is that I enjoy knowing as much as I can about a topic of interest. I rarely watch a TV show or read a news article without reading as much as I can about or around that topic. One piece of information on any given subject is not enough.

When all of that combines, it’s an intoxicating combination. Love of delving deep in to topics + seeker of new experiences and new information + pleasure from using technology.

When my brain is stuck in the boring-ness of life, my little phone with its nifty access to an infinite scroll of information is captivating. It’s literally so captivating that my children can stand beside me begging me to do play with them as I read an article on gentle parenting, and I’ll snap “let me finish reading this article.”

[Side note – I know life isn’t boring. And I know and practice mindfulness.  But I am talking about how my brain works. You might be different, that’s cool]

Unfortunately, social media also triggers some heavy anxiety for me. Confusion about the difference between acquaintances and friends, overthinking what people write, and exposure to other people’s fear and anger are a few challenges for me.

I have tried at least 5 million strategies for managing myself and my engagement with social media, especially through my phone. But the best strategy has been realising that I can’t manage myself right now. How can my lovely novelty-seeking, information-seeking, and dopamine-seeking brain compete with software that’s very intentionally designed to hold attention?

I’m currently experimenting with leaving social media as much as I can (homeschool meetups and business pages have stayed out of necessity). So far it’s OK. I miss seeing friend’s family photos and the odd blog post has slipped past me.

Importantly, ditching social media hasn’t changed my desire for access to all of the information, new experiences, and a good crisis or deadline. But it has helped me channel that in to new projects, writing, podcasts and friendships that are less anxiety-ridden.

I’m also reflecting a lot about my children’s access to software designed to hold their attention. As child-lead parents who are unschooling the kids outside of the mainstream, we have always insisted that we won’t succumb to fear about technology and will enable our children to have free access to screen time. Based on my own recent thoughts and experiences, I wonder, how can I best support my children? How can I help them to develop good self care in the face of attention engineers with lots of money and resources to build ever-engaging platforms?

I don’t have the answers and we haven’t instigated any changes in our house. Most of life happens here through conversations and experiencing the world together.

However, I am super interested to hear how you manage social media time, especially if you are neurodivergent.

Parents who consider themselves respectful or unschooling parents with children whose brains might be seeking dopamine hits (because of ADHD or other neurodivergence), what have your strategies been for supporting your children without controlling them?

Take care,   Briannon ❤

4 thoughts on “Screen time, social media and neurodivergence.

  1. Gosh, I can relate to so much of this Bri!!

    I haven’t managed to figure out how to manage my time on social media at all! That is the hardest part for me. There is link after link to get lost in!! And the friendships, and worrying about comments and messages etc.

    Yesterday was actually my 10 year Facebook anniversary!! What did I do before that? Well I still got lost in internet searches for tv shows and movies etc. But it wasn’t as available to me. I only had one PC, but now we have smart phones and iPads as well. Maybe not having a smart phone would be a good thing for me right now in my life.

    My kids seem to be able to manage their time quite well. They do have the occasional cycle of very late nights watching TV shows or movies when we are in our city house (only 14GB of data a month on the farm, compared to unlimited at our city house). But they seem to stop for movement breaks as they need, or ask me to play with them. I guess they will cycle throughout their life with this and what is going on for them. I am hoping they will be better at this than me since we radically unschool and TV, screens etc. isn’t seen as ‘bad’.

    For me, having a project or some goal to reach helps me to not get lost in ‘screen time’. Particularly a goal where others are relying on me, or I am accountable to someone…because I am so worried about letting people down/proving my self worth iykwim? And exercise and eating good food for my body also seems to help me stay more focussed. But reaching goals or finishing projects is so hard when you are a mum to small children. So the lure of social media hits the spot easily.

    So yeah, not sure that all made sense…..it’s hard!

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  2. Hey, thanks for replying. Especially for reassuring about the way we are raising our children making a difference to their ability to regulate. I hadn’t thought about the role larger projects played in my ability to regulate myself before the kids either. Thank you, B x

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  3. ❤ thank you for writing this 🙂 It so perfectly sums up how I so often feel but wasn't even able to identify and put into words. I often take social media breaks for months at a time when it just becomes "too much". I too am trying to find a balance. I love when you wrote about snapping at your little ones when they interrupt you while reading a gentle parenting article lol. I have so been there! Your blog has given me a lot of perspective and courage just knowing we aren't the only family going through some of these challenges. 🙂

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  4. I would love to hear how you have found a balance. Right now I’m missing being engaged in autistic community butmy mind is much better able to regulate across the day. And yes, so ashamed, but it’s a true story- I have totally snapped at my kids more than once while reading peaceful parenting blogs or scrolling gentle parenting instagram feeds. Thanks so much for commenting. Bri ❤

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