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 ❤