The Myth of Digital Forbidden Fruit
Why giving in to screens now doesn’t pay off in the future.
“I need to let my son game now so he won’t go crazy gaming in college.”
“If I limit my daughter’s social media, she will want it more.”
“My children tell me ‘They will die’ if I don’t get them a smart phone.”
We hear these comments from frustrated parents frequently. They’re all based on the “forbidden fruit” theory: if you limit an activity that your children desperately want, they will long for it even more. They believe limiting the activity now makes it more appealing — leading their children to obsess over it — when they are older. One example is if you don’t allow eating candy or drinking soda when children are young, they may binge later. Some parents even allow underage drinking, believing that makes consuming alcohol less tempting later.
Many parents let their kids overuse video games or hang out on their phones hours a day when they are young, thinking that imposing limits may cause them to crave it more when they are older. While this forbidden fruit theory may sound like a good argument on the surface, science doesn’t back it up. Neither does the experience of many parents. Because it’s a myth.
Scientific studies show, for example, that if a teen uses alcohol prior to age 15 he or she will have a 40 percent greater chance of becoming an alcoholic. This is also true for early porn viewing: The earlier a child views porn, the earlier they will be sexually active. In fact, early use is the strongest predictor of problems down the road with many addictions, including video gaming.
This direct correlation between early use and overuse is a result of the brain’s role in all addictions: the younger the child when the habit starts, the more ingrained it becomes. Early use activates neuronal pathways in the developing brain that become stronger with repeated use. These young brains also have immature frontal cortexes and are not easily able to put on the brakes when tempted with overuse, especially technology due to 24/7 access. Teens are not able to:
- consistently make good judgments
- understand future consequences
- control impulses to view adult content
- control impulses when taking relationship risks
That’s why, without parental limits and guidance, some teens will game until 3 a.m. Or surf pornography. They’ll post inappropriate photos on social media, not fully comprehending how those pictures never truly go away. They’ll talk to a dangerous stranger in a chat room. Or hurt a friend online in a way that’s hard to undo.
Parents may think that if they allow the digital forbidden fruit now, then their kids will get it “out of their system,” outgrow it, learn how to use it responsibly, or become disinterested and move on. But this is far from the truth! What children and teens are actually doing is reinforcing neuronal pathways, making their screen habits even stronger, more comfortable, and harder to stop. And parents are unwittingly aiding and abetting in the process.
Childhood habits are extremely powerful as early activities greatly shape your child’s young brain, creating lifelong patterns that can be hard to reverse. Teens who have trouble controlling gaming and social media are at a much greater risk for future screen problems. Meanwhile, healthy activities have been replaced by the games. This means that if your children choose seven to nine hours of daily screen use as their primary entertainment now, they likely will opt for it when they get to college and even after college.
If your son is not a serious gamer when he is a teen, chances are greater that he won’t abuse gaming later as those pathways won’t be as developed. (Plus he won’t be good at it!) Instead he may choose familiar activities and use skills he’s developed in earlier years. If your daughter is not dependent on social media for her entertainment now, chances are higher that her social media use will be balanced later. The child I know who never drank soda as a child never developed a taste for it and doesn’t drink it now.
Love your children enough to set boundaries and limits for them. Instead of handing out digital forbidden fruit because you think they might binge on it later, help your children explore healthy, fun activities when they are young. Sometimes you have to force them to try new activities, and then to stick with a new sport, musical instrument, robotics club, or other hobby, instead of allowing them to choose the path of least resistance — becoming dependent on screens for entertainment.
In our screen-obsessed culture, your children desperately need your guidance as the temptations are too great for a young mind. Focus on building a strong foundation with healthy family attachments and varied hobbies. Don’t let the forbidden fruit myth change your parenting decisions when it comes to childhood screen use!
For more information and support, visit familiesmanagingmedia.com or register for an educational seminar near you.