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Balancing High Dopamine and Low Dopamine Activities

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High Dopamine Activities, HDA, is a term coined by Dr. Clifford Sussman, MD a child and adolescent psychiatrist and psychotherapist based in Washington, DC. HDAs are activities where dopamine is available instantly - instant  gratification - AND continuously. They are problematic when done excessively.  The brain gets tired with the high flow of dopamine and needs to downregulate.  Moving forward, children will require more dopamine to reach the previous level of pleasure.

In contrast, low dopamine activities, LDA, result in delayed gratification. These activities include crafts, puzzles, and coding.  They don’t need to be offline.  

Healthy screentime balances HDA and LDA.  Dr. Sussman advises HDA activities should not be longer than 30 minutes at a time for kids younger than six-years-old and not longer than one hour for older kids. 

Carrots&Cake is designed to help parents balance kids' HDA and LDA activities.  Parents select “Carrots” - educational apps - which are LDA activities that children must complete before the they can select their own screen activities - typically HDA - “Cake.” Furthermore, requiring the children to complete Carrots results in training them in delayed gratification which is a key skill and component of “grit” which correlates to future success. 

Carrots&Cake advises parents to select “Carrots” which are LDA with a high cognitive load. This simply means children are creating versus consuming.  For instance, complex coding would be a positive Carrot. The child would be focusing, creating, and working toward a final result which equates to delayed gratification.

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Sam McDonald

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