Modern culture encourages consumption. We consume all the time. We consume food, we consume drinks. We consume all sorts of entertainment. The problem is that consumption often means over-consumption.
People who consume too much food become overweight. People who watch (consume) television for hours every day become lethargic. People who play video games for too long become addicted and have a need for the constant buzz provided by those games, or they’re “bored”.
Over-consumption encourages us to sit passively by and let the world feed our bodies and our brains. Many times, the more we consume the more we want to consume.
Over-consumption doesn’t just plague adults; it is a problem for children as well. A child that gets used to over-consuming early in life is being set up for a life of problems.
Overconsumption leads to passivity and dependence
Overconsumption of media such as videos and games doesn’t just waste time; it actually causes a child’s brain to adapt in such a way as to make them more passive. The child becomes more receptive to outside stimuli, engages in critical thinking less, and is less apt to solve their own problems.
The brain adapts based on what it does
This is very much related to the concept of brain plasticity, or the ability of the brain to adapt to its environment and the tasks that it’s called on to engage in. In short, the brain changes based on the things it’s called on to do. The more a child gets used to being in consumption mode, the more they will want to be in that mode, simply because their brain has adapted. The more a child passively consumes entertainment, the more they will want to keep doing that, and the less they will want to do more productive activities.
Kids who overconsume are more susceptible to peer-pressure
A non-obvious side effect of the over-consumption mindset is that kids are more susceptible to peer pressure because the ideas of peers are simply one more information source for children to passively consume. To learn more about how parents can help kids resist peer pressure, see How to Help Kids Stand Up to Peer Pressure.
Overconsumption is used by companies to harvest children’s time and attention
Elements within modern society actually encourage passivity in both children and adults. The consumer economy is optimized for getting people to over-consume, because the more we want to consume, the more we buy, and all that buying keeps the economy going.
Therefore, it’s imperative that parents educate their children about the dangers of overconsumption and help them understand the consumption traps that lay everywhere. Without a mental toolbox to guard against these traps, children can easily become perpetually addicted to the bait provided by the system.
Apps and sites are optimized for overconsumption
Many sites and apps undergo a constant state of optimizing to give people things that will entice them. For instance, social networks like TikToc employ psychological mechanisms to ensure that their product is as hyper-addictive as possible. The constant scrolling, the serving of small highly-entertaining videos that give one a quick buzz, coupled with the quiet, behind-the-scenes data-gathering all encourage passivity by providing an experience of maximum addictiveness.
A steady drip
It’s like a steady drip of a drug that stimulates the user, and in the end, just like a drug, these sites and apps benefit the user very little. The prime beneficiaries of social networks are the owners of the companies and those that advertise on them. In short, the more time your child uses these apps/sites, the more ads they see. The more ads they see, the more money the company collects.
Forces that push kids to consume are all around
In essence, the business model of TikToc and many other Internet companies is to addict your child and harvest hours of their life – converting the hours your child spends passively addicted into a steady revenue stream. This is very similar to the relationship between a farmer and a sheep. The farmer takes care of the sheep just enough to keep them mildly content and then periodically sheers them for their wool, with the sheep being oblivious the entire time.
The result of your child’s time and attention being harvested
The negative effects on users are obvious – lots of wasted time, little to nothing to show for it, and an addictive/passive mindset. A mindset that was created by being spoon-fed quick hits of excitement which decreased the ability to focus and want to act proactively.
Side note: check out the great movie The Social Dilemma for more information on how social media companies manipulate and addict users for the purpose of harvesting their time and attention (a.k.a. their lives).
Creating counterbalances consuming
What’s the counter to children over-consuming? Parents imposing limits on consumption, coupled with parents encouraging creating. Specifically, self-directed creative activities with some parental guidance when needed.
While consumption involves passively ingesting and accepting the world as it is, creating involves actively using one’s mind to change the world in some way or bring something new into existence.
Creating as a mark of maturity
To better illustrate the relationship between consumption and creation, think of the traditional life cycle of humans. When a child is born, they start off completely dependent. All they know how to do is consume. They cry and demand milk. Once they learn to crawl, they want to play all day, etc. But as a child grows, the balance gradually tilts more toward creation as the capabilities of their mind expand and independence increases.
As parents, it’s our job to encourage children on the path toward independence, and this means nudging children away from consumption and more toward creation.
Creating vs Consuming
What exactly do I mean by creation? I mean not simply accepting the world as it is and passively taking things in, but rather seeing how the world could be and then taking action to transform the world.
Some examples of creating vs. consuming activities:
- Creating a video game instead of playing a video game
- Creating a YouTube video instead of watching a YouTube video
- Making a delicious treat instead of eating a delicious treat
- Selling a product instead of buying a product
- Painting a picture instead of endlessly looking at Instagram posts
Creating builds a child’s sense of independence
When a child engages in regular creation under their own willpower (meaning they aren’t being forced to do so by an adult), they learn to trust their own instincts. They learn to listen to the voice within them for direction, rather than passively listening to outside sources, like what happens when they binge-watch videos or endlessly scroll through junk posts on a website.
Participating in creative activities causes their confidence to build because they gather real evidence that they can make a change in the world.
A habit of creating will serve a child well in the future
The children that grow up knowing how to create under their own direction are the ones that stand the best chance of doing well in the future.
A person’s value in the economy is based on their ability to solve other people’s problems. Ideally, the more valuable a problem you solve and the more people you solve it for, the better off you will be financially, and people will be willing to pay for your solution.
How this relates to kids over-consuming is that kids who grow up in hyper-consumer mode stand to bring less value to the economy. They have been passive followers all their lives, being entertained by others and following what others want them to do. In short, they have been trained to take value from the market, not put (unique) value back into the market.
People that create value for others become economically valuable
Contrast this with the child who was raised in a way to create. If a child has participated for years in self-directed creative activities, by the time they are an adult they will hit the ground running – actively offering value to the market and being rewarded for it. Additionally, all those years of self-directed creative activities make adapting to changing market conditions easier, seeing where new opportunities are popping up and jumping on them.
Common activities ranked from consumptive to creative
What follows is a list of the types of activities kids typically engage in, ranked from the most consumptive to the most creative. With my own kids, I try to put limits on the items on the consumption side of the scale and encourage the activities on the creation side of the scale as much as I can.
- Worst: YouTube, TikTok – mindless watching of videos that encourage a child’s addictive tendencies
- A bit better: Junk video games (mindless games with little to no redeeming value)
- A bit better: Netflix, movies – More complex than simple videos, require longer attention span
- A bit better: Documentaries
- A bit better: Higher quality video games (chess, slower strategy games, other games with some redeeming value)
- A bit better: Typical schoolwork
- Best: Art, creation of video games, writing articles, sports, independent research above and beyond school, creation of own business
Use a schedule to limit consumption and encourage regular creation
A go-to tool that I’ve referenced on this site several times is the simple weekly schedule. In this case, I recommend setting up a schedule with your child in which you specify how much consumption can be done on weekdays and weekends and how much and how often creation activities should occur.
TV, Video Games, Junk sites such as TikToc, Instagram, etc
- Weekdays: 1 hour/day
- Weekends: 2 hours/day
Art, computer programming, video creation, etc. Leave a wide latitude and allow the child to drive the type of creative activity.
- At least 2 hours during the week
- At least 3 hours over the weekend