Screen Time and Dopamine: Is Anything Safe?

November 28, 2023

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Today's question says, "In one of your other podcasts, you said something about screen time and the use of dopamine and the impact on children. I agree and understand your arguments, but are there any videos you can recommend that are okay for our kids?"


Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.

Hello friends, and welcome to another episode of the Foundation Worldview Podcast where we seek to answer your questions so that you can equip the children that God has placed in your care to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter and understand the truth of the biblical worldview. I'm your host, Elizabeth Urbanowicz, and I'm thrilled that you've joined me for another episode today. Today's question says, "In one of your other podcasts, you said something about screen time and the use of dopamine and the impact on children. I agree and understand your arguments, but are there any videos you can recommend that are okay for our kids?" This is a really important question for us to think through because as this questioner has mentioned in other podcasts, we have talked about the harmful effects of large amounts of dopamine that come solely from screen-based entertainment. However, it's unrealistic for us to avoid all screens and screen usage with our kids, so are there any videos, any shows that they can watch that don't have these harmful side effects?

That's a really important question for us to think through, but before we dive down deep into that, I just wanted to remind you about the exciting news that I've shared on previous podcasts at Foundation Worldview we have our first picture book out for kids, and it's called What Is Truth?, and we're so excited for the release of this picture book because it really engages kids on an important topic, the topic of truth in a really fun and playful and developmentally appropriate way. So if you haven't checked out that book yet, highly encourage you to, you can go to our website, for more information on that.

Now, as we think through screen time and dopamine hits, one thing that I think it's important for us to discuss that we haven't discussed on previous podcasts is that dopamine in and of itself is not a bad thing. God is the author, the creator of dopamine. It's a pleasure chemical and it's a good thing in its proper context that natural hits of dopamine in the context in which God designed it for is a good thing. For example, when we are curious about something and we have a desire to learn something new, we get a little hit of dopamine. When we're acquiring a new skill and it finally sinks in, we get a little hit of dopamine when we've met some goal that we have for ourselves, we usually get a little hit of dopamine when we've conquered some new challenge or we've eaten a delicious food or within the context of biblical marriage when there's sex in that relationship. These are all things that give us hits of dopamine and in their proper context. Dopamine is a really good thing, and even when we're talking about screen time, little hits of dopamine here and there from screen time, like, oh, once a week movie night, when these little hits don't create an addiction, they can be a good thing.

What we want to avoid is inappropriately large daily doses of dopamine that are just coming from fast-paced media, whether that's media in the form of a show, in the form of a short video clip, in the form of a video game, we want to avoid that chemical addiction. So now the question is, okay, so what kind of screen time is okay? Now, one of the main things we want to focus on is limiting the amount of screen time because we know that good things in moderation can be good, whereas good things in excess no longer are a good thing. Even just thinking about food, God has given us food. Isn't it amazing when you think about all of the ways that God could have chosen to refuel our body, he could have had us put our hand against a tree and we get nutrients from that tree, but God made it so that we actually eat food and that we have taste buds.

That is a sensory experience that we taste, that we smell, that there's a texture in the chewing. It can be a really enjoyable process of nourishing our bodies. However, when we take good food in excess, when it becomes gluttony, that actually becomes harmful to our body. So it's the same thing when we're thinking about dopamine hits from entertainment that our children should not be using forms of entertainment for more than 30 minutes or an hour each day, so we want to make sure that we're having it in moderation. Now, as we're thinking about the types of media that our children are engaged with, certain forms of media do well, there are more appropriate for child development. For example, when we're thinking of children ages four on up, some shows that are more developmentally appropriate and that are not super fast-paced and changing between sketches and having bright flashes of color and things like that.

A great example of an appropriate show would be the show Bluey, because yes, it's engaging and it's entertaining and there are bright colors. However, it's slower moving and it's not constantly switching back and forth between scenes and it's not using bright flashes of color or different things to engage kids in this entertainment. It's actually drawing them into the storyline. I think of the episode of Bluey, I don't remember what the name of the episode is, but there's one episode where there's no talking at all where Bluey is outside in the rain and is trying to manipulate where the water is going in the rain, and for the whole episode, it's just engaging kids visually in this story with just some quiet music and no talking, and so Bluey is a great show that's not going to get kids hooked on inappropriately large doses of dopamine.

Another show that it's not quite as developmentally appropriate as Bluey just for thinking about visually engaging kids, but I think does a pretty good job is the show Wild Catts. Wild Ratts doesn't have a ton of flashing or changing between scenes it's a little bit faster-paced than Bluey, but it's not appropriately fast if you are really looking for something very, very developmentally appropriate if you just search for older episodes of the Mr. Rogers show, the Mr. Rogers, it was a show where kids were engaged through eye contact with Mr. Rogers. Mr. Rogers talked very slowly in a way to engage kids, to get them to think, to get them to feel calm, to actually slow down the racing of their brains, and he would always teach them things, whether it was a lesson about how something was created by looking at how a Crayola cran is created or how something else is created, but he would also engage them relationally and teach lessons through the characters in the land of Make-believe.

So Mr. Rogers is a show that is very developmentally appropriate. Another show for kids four on up that does a good job of not really flashing back and forth between scenes too quickly or having too fast of a pace is the show Arthur, which is produced by PBS in the us. Now, you do need to be careful because there are some things on Arthur that you're going to have to talk through with your kids. For example, there's an episode where Mr. Ratburn marries a man, and so there's some things you have to be careful with on Arthur, but by and large, the way that Arthur was created and the way that the scenes go, it's one where kids are not going to be receiving larger hits of dopamine. Now, my area of expertise is really with children for probably to the age of about 12, and so when we're talking about shows for older kids, even just for kids 10 on up, I am not really sure what is out there and what is appropriate.

I think from the commercials that I see on different streaming services for kids shows, most of them I don't think are appropriate or really helpful, so I can't give you specific guidance there, but just some basic guidelines is that when kids are in this elementary and middle school age, we need to place very strict limits on what they can and cannot watch and the amount of time that they can spend where then when they get into the teen years, we have to gradually release that responsibility. In high school, I remember even being in high school and when I grew up, I am the oldest of the three siblings in my household, so I had a lot of restrictions on me when I was growing up in high school that my other siblings didn't have simply because my parents had to be careful what they did and didn't let into the house because there was younger kids in the house.

But I remember I was in my junior year of high school and I just told my mom, I was like, mom, I was like, none of the other kids in my class have a bedtime. Can I just please stay up and watch? At the time, it was Nick at night, I was like, can I just please stay up and watch Nick at night? And my mom, my parents probably would not have made this decision with every child in our household, but for the most part, I was a kid who towed the line. My parents knew I wasn't going to be watching something inappropriate. I didn't push boundaries too much, and so my mom said, "you know what? Elizabeth, you're a junior. You're going to be in college in two years. Yeah, you can choose the time that you want to go to bed and you can stay up and you can watch a little bit of tv."

And I remember just staying up watching the Brady Bunch on Nick at Night, and I did that for about a week until I realized it was very hard to concentrate in my chemistry class that started at seven 20, and so I decided, you know what? I probably can't stay up till midnight anymore. I probably need to be in bed before 10, and so I was able to make that decision on my own, but as kids grow up and they're in high school, we have to gradually release some of the responsibility that'll look different for different children, but completely avoiding screen time. That's just unrealistic. We just need to make sure that as our kids are growing, that we are helping protect their brains and provide healthy development from their brains of their brains by avoiding overexposure to media and just setting healthy limits.

Now, these are all things we've been talking about that we can limit with our kids, but something that we can actually positively do to help their brain to give appropriate hits of dopamine, but to actually help them grow and to reason and to think well is to train them to love reading.

Now, I know some kids more naturally love reading than others, but there are things that we can do to really train our kids to love reading. One of my friends has done just a phenomenal job of training her kids to love reading, and it was so cute this summer. She and her family went on a road trip, they travel all around their state, and she sent me a picture of her five-year-old son when they got back from the road trip that what she had done is she had gone to the library and she had checked out a whole bunch of playaways, which playaways are books on MP3, and what you can do is you can check out these playaways from your local library, and then you can also check out the corresponding book that goes along with it. So even if you have a young child, like a five-year-old who can't read really well, they can still follow along with the text in the book, but she sent me this picture of her son and he was just sitting on the living room floor and he would just look so engaged, and he had his headphones in and he had, I think it was a Ramona Quimbee book that he had listened to that Playaway on their trip home and he didn't, was so engaged.

He didn't want to stop when they got home, so he was just laying on the floor in their living room listening to the end of that book. So we really want to develop in our kids a love for reading because what we're doing when we're developing this love for reading or when our kids are really engaged in a book is their imaginations are used. They actually have to visualize what's going on or when they're watching something on a screen, there's no imagination or visualization going on that everything they're supposed to see is visually right before them, whereas when they're engaged in a book, they actually have to visualize in their mind what is being described by the author. So this is helping grow their creativity, grow their imagination. It's helping involve the prefrontal cortex in their brain and their reading skills. So we want to make sure, I'm sorry, I just said their reading skills.

I meant their critical thinking skills, but we want to make sure that we're helping develop these different portions of their brain through reading. So the best thing to do is right from the earliest of ages even before your kids can walk to just start reading to them. My sister-in-law did a great job of this. My oldest nephew, is a very active six-year-old, but the minute you open up a book, he will stop whatever he's doing and he can listen for hours because even when he was four months old, five months old, my sister-in-law would just sit him down on the rug. They do tummy time and she would read books to him for a long time, and so when you're reading books to kids, make sure you're involving different voices so that they're getting the idea that the characters that they come to life for them find books that are going to spark their interest.

Every child is interested in different things, but find books. Highly recommend that you check out our book club at Foundation Worldview because we try to include books each month that are going to spark kids' interest. One thing as a teacher that drives me nuts is when I just see books that are just not quality literature. So often I've encountered books at different people's houses that I'm just like, oh, it's based off of some TV show or movie, and it's just so poorly written and on the inside I'm just aching and being like, no, don't expose our kids to this literature that is just so poorly written. We want to develop in our children this love for language and books. Also, as I mentioned at the beginning of this podcast, check out our picture book, what is Truth at Foundation Worldview dot com because we have written the story in a way that's going to engage kids, that's going to get their minds critically thinking.

It actually gets their bodies involved, so they're not just sitting there while they're reading. They're actually having to move their body, engage their minds, so just find books that are going to spark their interest and are really going to draw them in. Then when we have kids with these active imaginations and these critical thinking skills, then we can include some screen time, but it's not going to overtake our kids' lives, and it's not going to hinder their brain development if we're including it in a limited and developmentally appropriate way.

If you have found the content of this podcast beneficial would ask that you would just take the three seconds that it takes to rate and review this podcast. Also, if you have a question that you would like for me to answer on a future Foundation Worldview podcast, you could submit that by going to

As we end our time together, my prayer for you is the same as always, that no matter the situation in which you and the children, God is placed in your care, find yourselves that you would trust that God is working all things together for your good by using all things to conform you more into the image of His Son. I'll see you next time.

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