Social Media & Gaming's Intentional Elimination of Stopping Cues and Our Call to Be the Stop

Social Media & Gaming's Intentional Elimination of Stopping Cues and Our Call to Be the Stop

The average child, according to data shared by ScreenStrong,[1] spends over 52 hours a week in front of electronic media. Some of it is required for school,[2] but a disturbingly large percentage of this screen time is spent in front of social media and/or digital games.
Should this concern us? Yes!
Take a few moments and read the paragraphs below from They give you a glimpse into the brain’s development and the ways excessive screen time negatively impacts it.  
The brain matures from the back to the front, from less complicated skills to more complicated skills. It takes approximately 25 years for the frontal cortex, the executive/judgment center in the front of the brain, to reach full maturity. Parents need to take control of their child’s screen time because the child’s judgment and impulse control center is not fully functioning yet—the child physically cannot self-regulate.
Your child’s activities will create the neuronal structure for their future brain. Healthy activities make for well balanced fully connected brains while excessive screen use leads to imbalanced and fragmented brains. Young brains need plenty of movement, touch, attachment to family, varied activities, and exposure to nature for optimal development of neuronal pathways.
Around puberty the brain experiences neuronal pruning—the pathways that are most used will be kept and strengthened, and the ones that are not used will be pruned away in order for the brain to function efficiently. There is only a short window of opportunity for important developmental activities to occur. Screens can get in the way of more important activities in a child’s developmental life.
Activities that help develop executive function are found in real life and are generally not found doing screen activities. In fact, screen activity can interrupt executive function skills formation by creating a long-term toxic stress state, isolating your child, and exposing him to trauma and violence. In addition, when a child is left on screens all day there is an opportunity cost. She is missing out on the opportunities for executive function building activities. So, even if the screen content is acceptable—not chronically stressful or violent—the time taken from healthy brain activities can stunt a child’s development. 
In short, excessive screen time changes the brain – and not for the better.[3] But how are we and our children duped into spending so much time in front of screens? Social media and digital game designers have eliminated the stopping cues, and as it turns out, we need stopping cues. The human brain needs stopping cues. Without them, we struggle to know when and how to stop.
Books have stopping cues at the end of each chapter. You can choose to stop or to continue, but the stopping cue gives your brain the opportunity to consider the question. Traditional television shows have credits that appear when the episode ends. These credits give you the opportunity to stop watching or to choose to watch another show. Even our bodies come with stopping cues. We know to stop eating when our body signals that it’s getting full. We know to rest when our body tells us it’s getting tired or sick.
If these stopping cues were removed, we would sink into excessive and unhealthy behaviors. If a book had no chapter breaks, we would struggle to put it down (and, thereby, not tend other necessary tasks). If one television show melded seamlessly into the next, we would find it difficult to stop watching. If our body didn’t tell us that we were getting full, we would overeat. And if our body didn’t tell us that we were tired or sick, we would not stop to get the rest our body needs to remain healthy and functional.
But this is precisely what social media and digital/online games have done. Social media is bottomless. You can scroll and scroll and scroll and scroll some more and you will never reach the bottom. NEVER. And this is greatly distressing to the human brain because it has an innate desire to reach the end, to discover the bottom, to find a good stopping point. And social media never offers that point. This, by the way, is one of the reasons that social media leaves us so unfulfilled. It never offers us closure. It never gives us a feeling of completion. It never allows us to feel like we have finished something. And that is very unsettling to the human brain.
Digital games function similarly. You never win the game. You advance levels, improve your status, and accrue more points, but you are never done. And this is by design, because it keeps us engaged. Further, it maximizes their profit at the expense of minimizing our relationships with the real people around us. Many are the parents who fear they have lost their children into the two-dimensioned world of the screen at the expense of the three-dimensioned world of the family.
For the sake of our children and families, it’s time to stay stop. Social media and gaming will not do it for us. They have removed all stopping cues. It’s time for us to be the stopping cues because real lives and real families are being lost in the bottomless pit of social media and gaming.
How do we do it? Become a ScreenStrong community. Want to learn how? Talk to me. Check out, be a part of a conversation group (I’ll tell you how), read Zion’s blog for articles and suggestions, read your monthly newsletter for continuing articles, ask me for book recommendations. Social media and digital/online gaming will never say stop. For the sake of real relationships in the three dimensional, world we must be the stop. – Pastor Conner

[1] ScreenStrong is a nationwide community dedicated to helping parents find “alternative ways to raise children in a screen-dependent world.”

[2] Many careful thinkers, researchers, and teachers are beginning to rethink the role of screens in schools (including laptops and phones in schools). Here are a few reasons: 1) Smartphones, with their never-ending stream of notifications, are a major distraction in class. 2) Kids believe devices (especially small-screened devices like chrome books) exist for entertainment, and therefore find it difficult to switch gears in the classroom. The dopamine reward is VERY strong and addictive (the promise of something new, of a reward, or of a surprise triggers it) and extended time in front of a screen that offers the possibility of dopamine reward is very hard for kids to resist. 3) The ease of accessing information online diminishes kids’ abilities to develop strong memories, i.e. the ability to remember and access important information, even the ability to formulate original thoughts.  

[3] Want to learn more about the science behind screens and brains? Want to talk about what to do about it? Talk to me (Pastor Conner). I’m starting a ScreenStrong conversation group that, with ScreenStrong’s science-supported curriculum, will equip us to know better and to do better when it comes to screens.

Read Our Other Blog Posts.

Copyright Zion Lutheran Church | All Rights Reserved | Site developed by Emagine, LLC