What in the world is anhedonia? Anhedonia is an inability to experience pleasure, especially through things that once excited us and gave us pleasure. While often related to depression and other mental conditions, some believe it is also a growing reality for our society, especially children and youth, due to the relentless entertainment stimuli presented in our digital world.
Think about it. Things that once excited us—riding our bikes, sand lot baseball and flag football, Lincoln logs, Atari game consoles and Wii rarely bring any level of excitement to a large percentage of children and youth today. With an abundance of increasingly realistic video games and Xbox, virtual headgear, Marvel’s Infinity Saga movies, techno-saturated rock concerts, and YouTube channels, little enjoyment is found in the things that used to bring so much pleasure as a family.
Trace Embry of Shepherds Hill Academy and host of License to Parent says today’s culture has “taken the pursuit of pleasure to an unhealthy extreme. In doing so, we have lost the ability to experience the very pleasure we are pursuing.” He sees anhedonia as a common cultural condition brought on by the abundance of entertainment stimuli that inhibit the pleasure centers of the brain. Thus, more and more stimuli are needed in order to experience the pleasure we desperately pursue.
So, why it is important for us to understand what anhedonia is doing to our society, especially our grandchildren? It is important because it affects every day learning and function. Here are six significance ways Trace Embry believes it affects our society, and in particular, our children and youth:
- A need for stimulation in order to focus. I know a lot of kids who think they need to have some kind of music blaring in their ears in order to study. Most of them claim they are unable to focus unless they have earbuds cranking out the latest tunes. Trace suggests this is like a drunk who thinks he needs to down a six pack before he can function at work. Neither function better, but they think they do.
- An addiction to entertainment. With all the work Trace does with teens, he sees the need for a continual new “fix” for more and more entertainment. There is a constant demand for more to stimulate the pleasure center in the brain that has been damaged. They need “more explosions, more action, etc. to satisfy their ‘fix’”.
- A destruction of relationship development. Entire families are fixated on the stimulations of their devices, especially today’s smartphones. Look at how many times the family table or families sitting at a restaurant are not talking to one another, but are fixated with their smartphones. The photo below was taken at a restaurant (using my smartphone, by the way) on my road trip with my grandson. I see it all the time. Trace calls this a “new normal”, and the fallout is enormous.
- A diminished desire for learning. Many of you have grandchildren who used to enjoy reading when they were little. Now they would rather binge-watch a series of movies or play games on their smartphone. The idea of reading a non-fiction book is almost unimaginable. Sesame Street launched the concept of education as entertainment, and today we are paying the price. Basic knowledge of historical facts and Bible stories that would have been easy for us as children, are unknown by a large percentage of today’s youth.
- An inability to understand a biblical worldview. Along with the diminished capacity to learn, Trace Embry believes “today’s digital stimuli have left no margin in life for young people to study or even read Scripture—it’s just too brutally boring for the anhedonic brain”. And prayer is incomprehensible to such a mind addicted to amusements. Even though they may call themselves “Christians”, there is little understanding and embracing of a truly biblical worldview.
- A feeling that the Church and faith is irrelevant. Consistent with a lack of understanding of a biblical worldview is the sense that Church and Christianity is boring and irrelevant. Unfortunately, many churches foolishly believe they can create an entertaining approach to worship and youth ministry that will draw them. While we may attract some, the long-term results speak for themselves. Trace comments that “what’s attracting them isn’t keeping them. What people find pleasurable and refreshing, believe it or not, is the truth!”
While anhedonia is real and powerful danger, it need not discourage us. Christ came to redeem even this. All of the curses of our sin are redeemable. Here are a few practical things we can put into practice so God can redeem the pleasure needs of our grandchildren:
- Look for opportunities to have conversations with your adult children and grandchildren about how the brain is impacted by so much amusement and entertainment. Make sure you are willing to exercise the discipline necessary to free yourself from the effects of anhedonia. What are you doing to minimize the excessive digital stimuli in your home and life?
- Pray for your grandchildren asking the Father to protect their minds and hearts from the evil one. You can’t eliminate the temptations, but you can pray for wisdom and strength for your grandchildren to resist the need to be constantly entertained by the newest thing.
- Begin at a very early age to read to your grandchildren. Read Bible stories to them and read books that reinforce biblical worldview teaching—books that address foundational truths that strengthen the mind rather than destroy it.
- See my suggestions in my book, Courageous Grandparenting, about implementing tech fasts or recesses in your home when your grandchildren come to visit. Show them how much fun simple things like puzzles, crafts and walks in the park can really be.
Send me some of your suggestions about how you help your grandchildren avoid the affects of anhedonia because of technological overstimulation.