In children, the development of ADHD and becoming addicted to technology are interrelated. According to WebMD, dopamine, a chemical in the brain, may play a part in the development of ADHD. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, controls the brain’s “reward and pleasure centers” (Evans). Normally, the chemical is produced by a neuron, or nerve cell, and released into an opening between two neurons called a synapse. The dopamine acts a chemical signal when it binds to protein receptors located on other neurons, allowing communication between neurons. A transporter protein inhibits accumulation of dopamine in the brain by removing it from the system ("How").
The video shows how the dopamine system of the brain works. In a healthy brain that receives stimulation, dopamine is produced and then removed by a transporter protein. Dopamine stimulation could refer to any sort of occurrence that makes a person happy, such as being told you are loved or even eating a delicious piece of cake.
In his Ted Talk, Simon Sinek discusses the relationship between technology and dopamine. Each time a child receives a notification, whether it be a text from a friend or a like on Instagram, a hit of dopamine in the brain is released. The release of this chemical in a child produces the same high that occurs when a person drinks alcohol, does drugs, or gambles.
Overuse of each of these things will disrupt the brain’s normal dopamine system described earlier. For example, when a person uses cocaine, dopamine is not removed from the brain because the drug binds to the transporter protein which normally removes the chemical from the brain. This causes a great amount of dopamine to collect in the brain, magnifies the chemical signal sent out by dopamine, and ultimately causes the "high" felt by a person who has just used cocaine.
This diagram shows what occurs in the brain when a person has cocaine in their system. The drug attaches to the transporter protein which normally would recycle the dopamine back into the transmitting neuron. This causes dopamine to accumulate in the synapse, giving the person a feeling of euphoria. (Cocaine in the Brain. 2016. NIDA, n.p.)
Although doing drugs and spending hours on a tablet seem like two very different practices, they are essentially the same since they produce the same feeling of euphoria. Kyung-Seu Cho, a researcher at the Department of Early Childhood Education in Eulji University, South Korea described the lack of using a smartphone leads to “withdrawal symptoms that are equal to those of drug or alcohol addiction” (Cho). If children addicted to smartphones or tablets are unable to use these devices, they can have feelings of anxiety and nervousness, two symptoms of drug addicts going through withdrawal (Cho). To take a case in point, children's overuse smartphones and tablets leads is similar to a drug addiction since dopamine is accumulating in their brains and they experience the same withdrawal symptoms.
Children receive this high from dopamine when they play on tablets and smartphones, which could potentially contribute to their development of ADHD, a disorder which amplifies the chances of becoming addicted to technology. In children with ADHD, the dopamine levels in the brain are much lower than normal. Therefore, when children with ADHD use a smartphone or tablet, the dopamine “high” they feel is amplified because only small amounts of the chemical exist in their brains.
This PET scan on left shows the brain of a person without ADHD, while the scan on the right depicts the brain of someone with ADHD. The greater amount of yellow, orange, and red in the left scan indicates a higher amount of dopamine. (Control Subject versus ADHD Subject PET Scan. 2016. NIDA, n.p.)
Just as important, this technological addiction not only leads to the onset of ADHD, but also other mental and behavioral issues including depression, anxiety, and aggression (Cho). Equally as important, we must briefly address how this technological addiction affects children socially. At Boston University School of Medicine, Jenny Radesky, a clinical researcher in developmental and behavioral pediatrics, advises that parents reinforce interaction with their children (Walters). Radesky suggests parents designate an hour of time without devices to promote human to human interaction. As a result, children will gain necessary social skills simply by interacting with their family.