Tristan Harris refers to there having been an ‘invisible climate change of culture’ over recent years with technology having taken over the lives of citizens and often democracies in complex and negative as well as positive ways. This perfect storm is described as the interaction between the ‘palaeolithic impulses of our brains, archaic forms of government and god-like technology’. I am interested in the implications this has for children growing up in the world of today and tomorrow and how we might need to change what and how children learn in school.
For this seed project, I designed a series of lessons with children aged 7-11 to explore how children can manage their physical and emotional health whilst engaging with their digital worlds. We looked at the impact of gaming, social media and technology on children’s physical and emotional health and wellness.
To understand the impact of gaming on their lives, I gave children time to speak about what games they play, how they feel during and after having played and more generally learned from them about their experiences online. We looked at how game designers make gaming so appealing by studying early conditioning experiments in psychology. Children learned about how intermittent rewards are used in game design and how these reward systems tap into chemical releases of dopamine in the brain. Children started to recognize how these looked in the games they played, like free wheel spins, coins, points, level-ups and many other prizes embedded within. Children were often able to point to times when they felt compelled to keep playing a game and that being asked to stop could be a real source of stress and upset for them (as well as their parents!). We also spoke about the enjoyment children talked about when they played games and learned that humans have the ability to make different types of connections in their pre-frontal cortex that relate to self- and impulse control.
Rather than just talk about this, we thought we would experiment in practice. I gave children a few minutes on different occasions to play a very popular app game, renowned for being very compulsive and addictive and then asked to stop. It was interesting to re-create this moment of what has surely caused many arguments between parents and children across the world and for children to reflect on the impact this had on their mood, feelings and behaviours. While it was not the case that children said they no longer wanted to play games in the most part, children did show in their reflections an increased understanding of the impact that games could have on their behaviours and relationships. They noted not only the impact it had on they themselves but also their family members; often commenting critically and with passion about how much time their parents and siblings spent on their phones and how much this distracted them from being present in the home.