Parents Are Trying 'Anti-Dopamine Parenting'. Here's What That Means

Could this be a way to curb tantrums?
Stefania Pelfini, La Waziya Photography via Getty Images

A lot has been said about dopamine and our relationships with our screens.

Research published by Harvard University shows that rewarding social stimuli – laughing faces, positive recognition by our peers and messages from loved ones – activate dopaminergic reward pathways.

Smartphones, TV and films are one way we can trigger these dopamine responses, with every ‘like’ or funny moment scratching a particular itch in our brains.

Well, parents have taken these findings further with the concept of ‘anti-dopamine’ parenting.

What is anti-dopamine parenting?

It looks at the ways parents can reduce children’s screen time (good riddance, Coco Melon!) and relationship with dopamine-stimulating foods like sweet treats and fast food, to regulate their kids’ systems and hopefully have a more emotionally-balanced child.

In a podcast on the subject by NPR, hosts Anne-Noel Samaha and Michaeleen Doucleff opened up about their children’s relationships with screens.

Doucleff noted: “My daughter is seven, and she was getting in the habit of watching cartoons every night. And while her eyes fixate on the Technicolour images, dopamine bursts in her brain not once, but repeatedly, and that keeps her wanting to watch.

“Then I come in and say, time’s up; time to go to bed, and take the screen away from her abruptly. But the dopamine doesn’t go away immediately.”

Doucleff went on to explain how her daughter will fight her to be able to keep doing the activity that was making her so happy. Cue the tantrums.

According to Harvard Health, dopamine affects kids’ learning, attention, mood, focus, movement, organ function and sleep.

And this study shows that lack of exposure to healthy outdoor light conditions and staying in too often to play games or watch TV can increase the likelihood of depression, addiction and childhood myopia.

However, going too strict with our parenting styles might also lead to negative emotional consequences for our kids.

The pressure to conform to such strict standards could cause them to binge on these dopamine-triggering activities when they’re older. So, as with everything – it’s a balance.

So, how to try it for yourself?

Speaking to Scary Mommy, Stanford psychiatrist Anna Lembke suggests switching up your living spaces and having screen-free zones: “For example, my family stopped bringing screens in the car. We removed them from all but one room in the house, and we started camping once a month – no screens.”

And things like listening to music, getting out in nature and connecting with other people are all healthy ways to boost dopamine. As is eating colourful fruits and veggies and healthy proteins.

If you do need to take the iPad from your child, or they’re asking for more cookies after eating one, Kent Berridge, a neuroscientist at the University of Michigan, suggested to NPR parents should try and wait it out for two to five minutes, as the urge usually goes away by then.

You’ll know what’s right for your family and you. Reducing screen time can be beneficial for everyone, though — adults and children alike. And with the sun out right now, there’s never been a better time to get outdoors and play.