The Power of Digital Addiction
Keeping Yourself Safe
Are You Addicted?
What is Addiction?
Slide 3 Heading
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit dolor
Click Here
Slide Heading
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.
Click Here
Slide Heading
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.
Click Here
Slide Heading
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.
Click Here
Slide Heading
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.
Click Here
Slide Heading
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.
Click Here
Previous slide
Next slide

The Power of digital addiction

keeping yourself safe

Most students (and adults!) are unaware of the depth of their addiction to digital engagement. Boundaries set by parents and schools may be the only things that keep them off their devices for a few hours a day. By understanding the addictive nature of digital engagement, students will be primed to begin setting boundaries for themselves. These boundaries should reflect a healthy knowledge of the dangers that are out there, and a healthy respect for their own personhood. Although the section about brain neurotransmitters may seem deep, it is important for students to understand what is happening to them each time they digitally engage.


Students will be able to define addiction and evaluate the level of their digital addiction by understanding first why games and social media are so addictive and second by understanding how dopamine overload creates or worsens addictive behaviors.

lesson plan

  • Define addiction
  • Addiction Quiz
  • Quiz Discussion
  • Boundaries Lesson
  • Break into Groups for Discussion
  • Reactions Group Questions
  • Define Dopamine
  • Discussion about Dopamine and Addiction
  • Visualization Exercise
  • Wrap-up
  • Take Home Activity

word to define: addiction

  • An addiction is a compulsive (feels out of control), chronic (never stops), need for a habit-forming substance, behavior, or activity that has harmful effects and causes anxiety and/or irritability when taken away. According to the American Psychiatric Association, addiction is a “complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences.”

word to define: dopamine

By defining dopamine, you give context to addiction discussion.

  • Dopamine is a chemical released in the brain that makes you feel good. Having the right amount of dopamine is important both for your body and your brain. Dopamine helps nerve cells to send messages to each other.


Are You Addicted?

INSTRUCTIONS: Circle Yes or No for each answer. Be as honest as possible.

all the tools you need for this

lesson outline


Define addiction

Hand out the quiz, “Are You Addicted” to the students.

Give them a few minutes to fill it out.

Lead a discussion about how they answered the questions.



  • What did you think about this quiz?
  • Did any of the questions make you uncomfortable?
  • Did the questions make you realize that you can be addicted to your phone?
  • What are some positive things about having a cell phone?
  • What are some negative things about having a cell phone?
  • Do you think it’s possible to use your phone and not abuse it or be addicted to it?
  • What are some ways you could protect yourself from cell phone addiction?


Boundaries are part of the plan to help you achieve your goals faster.

Farm animal and fence line example

Pair up the students for a discussion about boundaries. Think about the following questions and share them with each other.



  • Do your parents put boundaries or limits on the amount of time that you can be online or on your phone? If so, what are those boundaries or limits?
  • Do they say only after your homework and chores are done? Or is there a time limit?
  • Why do you think your parents put these limits on you?
  • Do you think they just don’t understand? Or that they are being mean? Or do you think there may be good reasons for boundaries?


Discussion questions about reactions when your media/technology time is up.


Define dopamine

  • Why do you think it is so hard to stop playing video games or checking social media?
  • Why do we always want to go past the boundaries that are set for us when it comes to phones, tablets, computers, and game consoles?
The connection between dopamine and addiction.

Y O U   H A V E   A N   A D D I C T I O N   IF:

  • If you have ever argued with your parent about turning off a video game or giving up your phone for a period of time (maybe even a short dinner), you have an addiction.
  • If you have had to be threatened with punishment or discipline because you wouldn’t stay within the boundaries of your online activities, you have an addiction.
  • If you have stayed in the bathroom longer than necessary so you could finish looking at or playing on a phone, or if you have stayed up past a healthy bedtime while looking at your phone, you have an addiction.
  • If you “sneak peek” to see if you got a text or Snapchat message during a class, a meal, or church, you have an addiction.


D O P A M I N E   +   A D D I C T I O N

  • Is it a coincidence that most of our opportunities for digital engagement come associated with bright colors, pleasant sounds, instant rewards (albeit of artificial currency like “gold coins”), and addictive formats? (Answer: No, it is not a coincidence!)
  • Those tasked with creating digital games and activities know full well that dopamine causes humans to want, desire, seek out, and search.
  • It increases our level of arousal and promotes goal-directed behavior.
  • It creates reward-seeking circuits or “loops” in the nervous system that make us repeat the pleasurable behavior—whether it is checking Instagram for “likes” or whether enjoying sex, drugs, food, or music. It is all the same.
  • If you don’t believe it, try turning the settings of your phone onto black and white instead of color and see how fun it is to look at. (If phones are allowed in school, have them try this out now, time permitting)
  • Dopamine signals feedback for predicted rewards. If you have learned to associate a cue like a drink of alcohol or downing a big Mac with pleasure or with a lessening of emotions like sadness, anger, or guilt, then you will start getting increases in dopamine deep in the brain in response to merely the sight of those things.
  • Your brain anticipates the coming reward—even if that reward is merely the cessation of stress or pain caused by the addictive substance itself.

ADDICTION discussion

Ask students if they know what an addiction is. After a short time, provide the definition and have students write it down. Inform them that they will be quizzed on the definition at the beginning of the next class.

Discussion Questions about Addiction.

*Inevitably someone will say something about putting boundaries, restrictions, or limits on phone usage. This is the perfect segue into the section on boundaries and the visualization exercise.

boundaries discussion

Boundaries are part of the plan to help you achieve your goals faster.

No one really likes boundaries.

Have you ever been to a farm or out into the country where horses, cows, or sheep are grazing?

Often you will see those animals fenced in with acres of beautiful grass to eat. But where do they hang out? (At the fence line.)

They stick their little noses right through whatever fence is there and munch on the grass just outside the boundary that has been set for them.

Why do they do that? (Entertain answers)

Aren’t we all a bit like that? If we are told that we have one hour to play video games with our friends, and that hour is over, we complain, whine, beg, and try to push the boundary up to more than one hour.

Guess what? No matter how much time you get to play, it will always seem like “not quite long enough.”

You will always want more time than you are allowed to have. Because we are like those sheep and goats, and horses, and cows.

We always want what is just out of reach. That is how humans are wired.

  • Pair up students for boundaries discussion in small groups.

reactions group discussion

  • How do you normally react when your computer or video game time is up?
  • How do you react when your phone is taken away, or when you are asked to put it away for some reason?
  • What about when your battery dies? Do you get angry or irritable or anxious in these situations? Or are you able to stay calm and carry on?
  • If you’re not sure about how you typically react, think about what your parent or siblings would say about how you react. Would they say you react calmly and logically? Or would they say you tend to “lose it?”
  • If you really believed that the boundaries set for you were for your own good, and would help you achieve the life you want, would you react differently? What would that look like?

understanding dopamine

Definition of Dopamine.

Dopamine is a chemical in your brain that is stimulated by being online, playing video games, or getting “likes” on social media.

Dopamine isn’t bad. In fact, it’s the chemical that allows us to feel pleasure and motivation, and it even diminishes physical pain.

But…when you over-engage in behaviors that stimulate the production of dopamine, you actually begin to downgrade your dopamine receptors in the brain.

That is the point where you need more and more of a behavior or substance (alcohol, drugs, sex, food, video games, etc.) to feel good.

Eventually, you can’t even feel normal without the behavior or substance. That is addiction, pure and simple.

We joke about being “addicted” to chocolate, to our phones, or to other people, but what do we mean when we talk about addiction?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, addiction is a “complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences.”

  • You have an addiction if . . .

dopamine and addiction

What creates this addiction? (Answer: Dopamine)

Why would anyone risk being “grounded” just for five more minutes of game time?

All addictions—from gambling to drugs to technology are all based on the same underlying function. The brain expects that an activity will produce a reward. This reward may or may not be obvious to the addict. The lower parts of the brain interpret the activity as a positive experience even if that activity is dangerous, harmful, addictive, or even painful. For gamblers, it’s not the possibility of winning that gives them the “high.” It’s the risk.

Sadly, over time it takes more and more of a stimulus to produce the same level of reward. That is why alcoholics can literally drink themselves to death. The greater the risk, the more dopamine released in the brain and the more satisfaction to the addict.

Research has shown that the act of checking emails, texts, and social media releases dopamine in the same way that gambling away large sums of money at a casino does. Changes in the brain’s wiring are what cause people to have intense cravings for (the substance or behavior) and make it hard to stop.

It’s truly NOT something to joke about. If we knew that someone or something was hijacking our brains—if we really believed that were happening, we would do WHATEVER it takes to stop it, wouldn’t we?

Dopamine plays a role in motivation, pleasure, and satisfaction. When dopamine neurons become activated, they release dopamine. When something good happens to us (especially if it is unexpected), dopamine neurons are activated.

Dopamine is the “feel-good” neurotransmitter. We get a boost when we eat foods we love, engage in sexual activity, drink alcohol, take drugs, engage in regular exercise, and when we are playing video games or outcome-based games on our phones.

Ever wonder why you feel awesome while watching YouTube videos or scrolling through social media?

Your dopamine is “dinging” and giving you deep, hedonistic pleasure. I probably don’t need to tell you how ugly it can get when someone tries to take that source of pleasure away.

Dopamine has been implicated in schizophrenia and ADHD. This neurotransmitter causes us to want, to desire, to search and seek out pleasure. We eat a second piece of cake; we don’t turn off a pornographic website popup immediately, we play games instead of reading, learning, or connecting in real life.

People with high levels of dopamine—whether because of their innate brain wiring or because they are amped up on digital, dopamine “dings” (the sounds made when you score points, get an instant message, an Instagram “like,” or any other of a number of alerts on your phone) are sensation seekers.

A lack of dopamine, or a dopamine deficiency has been implicated in certain conditions like Alzheimer’s, depressive disorders, binge-eating, addiction, and gambling. These are important considerations not only because we want to keep ourselves addiction free, but also because we will need a PLAN to keep dopamine levels from dropping too quickly when we take away or lessen the amount of the addictive substance (digital engagement).

But make no mistake: we DO need to regulate this engagement, no matter how ugly it gets.

  • Discussion questions – Dopamine + Addiction
  • Visualization Exercise
  • Take Home Activity

visualization exercise

I want you to close your eyes. If you like, you can put your head down on your desk. Be still for a minute and imagine with me. Imagine you are in a deep, dark cave. It is completely pitch black in there. You can’t see a thing. You have been told that there is a way out, but you will have to feel around for quite some time to find it. Oh! And…there are holes in the floor of the cave that drop down into pools filled with snapping alligators. You don’t know where the holes are because it is so dark. What would you have to do to find your way out? (Pause and let this sink in for a full minute).

Open your eyes and tell me what methods you would use to find your way out of that deep, dark cave? (Entertain answers. If no one answers, lead them to the idea of fences, or boundaries of some sort.)

Close your eyes again and think with me. You may have to crawl on your belly feeling with your hands to avoid falling into the pits and getting eaten by the alligators. (Allow students to imagine and think for a full minute).

Now imagine that you are in the same dark cave with the pits that lead to the pools filled with alligators. But this time there are metal fences around the pits. Each pit is surrounded by a fence high enough to keep you from falling in. How much easier would it be now to get out of that dark cave? (Entertain answers.) Yes! It would be a lot easier because you could stand straight up, walk slowly, feeling with your hands for each fence. You could navigate the terrain successfully because of the safety boundaries that were put in place for you.

Guess what? The rules that we have here at school and the rules you have at home about what you can look at on the internet and how much time you can spend in digital engagement—THOSE are the safety fences that will help you navigate your teen years and get where you want to go!

So instead of getting mad at your parents for having such strict rules, be glad that they are helping you get where you need to be. Don’t fight with them or push back against the rules. See them for the help that they are for you. (Students can open their eyes now).