Kids today are lacking these psychological nutrients

The key to raising indistractable kids is to first determine why they're distracted.

NIR EYAL: There's only two places in society where we can tell people where to go, what to think, what to eat, who to be friends with, how to dress, and that's school and prison.

How do we raise indistractable kids? As the father of a tech-loving 11-year-old, I remember when my daughter was only two years old and some of her first words were "iPad time, iPad time." Well, we want to make sure that we are raising our kids in a way that they themselves can deal with distraction. I think this will be the skill of the century. So there's a few things that we need to realize following the indistractable model. When it comes to raising indistractable kids we need to find the root cause of why our kids are getting distracted and not be satisfied with just blaming the proximal cause. Parents have been blaming all sorts of things for their kids' bad behavior for generations. In my generation it was video games or television. Before that it was the radio. All the way back to the written word was blamed for causing distraction. And when it comes to kids these days, people find some reason why kids are behaving the way they are. But as opposed to being satisfied with just the proximal cause. let's dive deeper to understand why kids overuse technology.

A very widely accepted theory of human motivation says that all of us need three things for psychological well-being. According to self-determination theory we require a sense of competence, autonomy, and relatedness. And when we are denied those things the needs displacement hypothesis says that we look for them wherever we can get them. And when we look at kids' lives today they are deficient in these three psychological nutrients. Consider competence. With the rise of standardized testing a good number of kids these days are constantly told that they're not good enough. They're not competent in their school activities. And when they feel that way they look for competency elsewhere. Well, of course, the tech companies are more than happy to give them a feeling of competency when they play a game online.

Now consider kids' sense of autonomy. This is the most overscheduled generation in history. Between after school activities like Kumon and swimming lessons and Mandarin, kids have very little time for free play. And for those families who can't afford all those after school activities many parents are scared to death by the message we've heard in the media that our kids are somehow going to be abducted at any minute. It turns out that this is the safest generation in American history and those fears are unfounded. And yet many parents keep their kids at home where they have little choice but to look for a sense of agency and control through their devices. So when kids are constantly scheduled throughout their day and restrictions placed on them, they look for a place where they can feel agency and autonomy. In fact, researchers tell us that kids today have ten times the number of restrictions placed on them as an average adult, twice as many as an incarcerated felon. And so when kids don't feel a sense of autonomy offline, they look for it online. They play Fortnite or Minecraft or whatever other game because that's where they feel like gods. They own that environment. They have a sense of agency and control that they so severely lack offline.

Finally consider relatedness. Researchers tell us that kids today have very little time for free play. Not supervised by coaches or parents, but time to just be kids. It turns out that free play is incredibly psychologically nourishing. Free play is where we understand others and are understood ourselves. We need this time for proper socialization. But kids have less time for free play than ever. And so when they don't get that sense of relatedness offline, where do they go? Well, they go to Instagram or Snapchat or TikTok. These apps, these social media companies give kids the sense of relatedness that they're striving for. So the root cause of overuse in most kids' lives is not the technology itself but rather the fact that they are missing these three critical psychological nutrients of competency, autonomy, and relatedness.

  • When it comes to the rules and restrictions placed on children, author and Stanford Graduate School of Business lecturer Nir Eyal argues that they have a lot in common with another restricted population in society: prisoners. These restrictions have contributed to a generation that overuses and is distracted by technology.
  • Self-determination theory, a popular theory of human motivation, says that we all need three things for psychological well-being: competence, autonomy, and relatedness. When we are denied these psychological nutrients, the needs displacement hypothesis says that we look for them elsewhere. For kids today, that means more video games and screen time.
  • In order to raise indistractable kids, Eyal says we must first address issues of overscheduling, de-emphasize standardized tests as indicators of competency, and provide them with ample free time so that they can be properly socialized in the real world and not look to technology to fill those voids.




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Meet Dr. Jennifer Doudna: she's leading the biotech revolution

She helped create CRISPR, a gene-editing technology that is changing the way we treat genetic diseases and even how we produce food.

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This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

Last year, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier became the first all-woman team to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work developing CRISPR-Cas9, the gene-editing technology. The technology was invented in 2012 — and nine years later, it's truly revolutionizing how we treat genetic diseases and even how we produce food.

CRISPR allows scientists to alter DNA by using proteins that are naturally found in bacteria. They use these proteins, called Cas9, to naturally fend off viruses, destroying the virus' DNA and cutting it out of their genes. CRISPR allows scientists to co-opt this function, redirecting the proteins toward disease-causing mutations in our DNA.

So far, gene-editing technology is showing promise in treating sickle cell disease and genetic blindness — and it could eventually be used to treat all sorts of genetic diseases, from cancer to Huntington's Disease.

The biotech revolution is just getting started — and CRISPR is leading the charge. We talked with Doudna about what we can expect from genetic engineering in the future.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Freethink: You've said that your journey to becoming a scientist had humble beginnings — in your teenage bedroom when you discovered The Double Helix by Jim Watson. Back then, there weren't a lot of women scientists — what was your breakthrough moment in realizing you could pursue this as a career?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: There is a moment that I often think back to from high school in Hilo, Hawaii, when I first heard the word "biochemistry." A researcher from the UH Cancer Center on Oahu came and gave a talk on her work studying cancer cells.

I didn't understand much of her talk, but it still made a huge impact on me. You didn't see professional women scientists in popular culture at the time, and it really opened my eyes to new possibilities. She was very impressive.

I remember thinking right then that I wanted to do what she does, and that's what set me off on the journey that became my career in science.

Freethink: The term "CRISPR" is everywhere in the media these days but it's a really complicated tool to describe. What is the one thing that you wish people understood about CRISPR that they usually get wrong?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: People should know that CRISPR technology has revolutionized scientific research and will make a positive difference to their lives.

Researchers are gaining incredible new understanding of the nature of disease, evolution, and are developing CRISPR-based strategies to tackle our greatest health, food, and sustainability challenges.

Freethink: You previously wrote in Wired that this year, 2021, is going to be a big year for CRISPR. What exciting new developments should we be on the lookout for?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were multiple teams around the world, including my lab and colleagues at the Innovative Genomics Institute, working on developing CRISPR-based diagnostics.

Traits that we could select for using traditional breeding methods, that might take decades, we can now engineer precisely in a much shorter time. — DR. JENNIFER DOUDNA

When the pandemic hit, we pivoted our work to focus these tools on SARS-CoV-2. The benefit of these new diagnostics is that they're fast, cheap, can be done anywhere without the need for a lab, and they can be quickly modified to detect different pathogens. I'm excited about the future of diagnostics, and not just for pandemics.

We'll also be seeing more CRISPR applications in agriculture to help combat hunger, reduce the need for toxic pesticides and fertilizers, fight plant diseases and help crops adapt to a changing climate.

Traits that we could select for using traditional breeding methods, that might take decades, we can now engineer precisely in a much shorter time.

Freethink: Curing genetic diseases isn't a pipedream anymore, but there are still some hurdles to cross before we're able to say for certain that we can do this. What are those hurdles and how close do you think we are to crossing them?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: There are people today, like Victoria Gray, who have been successfully treated for sickle cell disease. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

There are absolutely still many hurdles. We don't currently have ways to deliver genome-editing enzymes to all types of tissues, but delivery is a hot area of research for this very reason.

We also need to continue improving on the first wave of CRISPR therapies, as well as making them more affordable and accessible.

Freethink: Another big challenge is making this technology widely available to everyone and not just the really wealthy. You've previously said that this challenge starts with the scientists.

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: A sickle cell disease cure that is 100 percent effective but can't be accessed by most of the people in need is not really a full cure.

This is one of the insights that led me to found the Innovative Genomics Institute back in 2014. It's not enough to develop a therapy, prove that it works, and move on. You have to develop a therapy that actually meets the real-world need.

Too often, scientists don't fully incorporate issues of equity and accessibility into their research, and the incentives of the pharmaceutical industry tend to run in the opposite direction. If the world needs affordable therapy, you have to work toward that goal from the beginning.

Freethink: You've expressed some concern about the ethics of using CRISPR. Do you think there is a meaningful difference between enhancing human abilities — for example, using gene therapy to become stronger or more intelligent — versus correcting deficiencies, like Type 1 diabetes or Huntington's?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: There is a meaningful distinction between enhancement and treatment, but that doesn't mean that the line is always clear. It isn't.

There's always a gray area when it comes to complex ethical issues like this, and our thinking on this is undoubtedly going to evolve over time.

What we need is to find an appropriate balance between preventing misuse and promoting beneficial innovation.

Freethink: What if it turns out that being physically stronger helps you live a longer life — if that's the case, are there some ways of improving health that we should simply rule out?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: The concept of improving the "healthspan" of individuals is an area of considerable interest. Eliminating neurodegenerative disease will not only massively reduce suffering around the world, but it will also meaningfully increase the healthy years for millions of individuals.

There is a meaningful distinction between enhancement and treatment, but that doesn't mean that the line is always clear. It isn't. — DR. JENNIFER DOUDNA

There will also be knock-on effects, such as increased economic output, but also increased impact on the planet.

When you think about increasing lifespans just so certain people can live longer, then not only do those knock-on effects become more central, you also have to ask who is benefiting and who isn't? Is it possible to develop this technology so the benefits are shared equitably? Is it environmentally sustainable to go down this road?

Freethink: Where do you see it going from here?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: The bio revolution will allow us to create breakthroughs in treating not just a few but whole classes of previously unaddressed genetic diseases.

We're also likely to see genome editing play a role not just in climate adaptation, but in climate change solutions as well. There will be challenges along the way both expected and unexpected, but also great leaps in progress and benefits that will move society forward. It's an exciting time to be a scientist.

Freethink: If you had to guess, what is the first disease you think we are most likely to cure, in the real world, with CRISPR?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: Because of the progress that has already been made, sickle cell disease and beta-thalassemia are likely to be the first diseases with a CRISPR cure, but we're closely following the developments of other CRISPR clinical trials for types of cancer, a form of congenital blindness, chronic infection, and some rare genetic disorders.

The pace of clinical trials is picking up, and the list will be longer next year.

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