While digital devices inflict harm on our brains and our children’s brains, screen time also harms our real estate business as it removes opportunities for genuine connection and enjoyable experiences. Here’s why you should cut back on digital and a few ideas on how to replace it.

With more than 1,000 Inman posts, Bernice Ross is a long-time contributor whose weekly column on real estate trends, luxury, marketing and other best practices publishes every Monday.

As I evaluate my experiences with digital devices, it has become increasingly clear that I often exhibit behavior similar to that of an individual with attention-deficit disorder (ADD) — flitting from topic to topic, procrastination, finding it more difficult to concentrate for extended periods of time, succumbing to the lure of electronic distractions when faced with a huge work challenge and even difficulty writing.

If these digital influences are this strong on a matured adult brain, what they are doing to our children? Recently, 60 Minutes answered this question when it reported on a groundbreaking study that examined the effects of screen time on kids. The preliminary findings should disturb every single one of us.

In addition to the harm inflicted on our brains and our children’s brains, screen time also harms our real estate business as it removes opportunities for genuine connection and enjoyable experiences.

What are we doing to our brains?

The federal government, through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has launched a study examining the effects that screen time has on the physical structure of children’s brains, their emotional development and mental health.

The advances in brain scanning technology have allowed researchers to see how the brain processes information in real time. The areas that “light up” on the brain scans when children use mobile devices are those that release dopamine.

Increased dopamine levels are tied to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as well as schizophrenia and virtually all addictive behaviors. The nucleus accumbens is a primary reinforcement center for almost all types of rewards, including alcohol, drugs, food and sex.

According to The Reward Foundation, “The nucleus accumbens plays a central role in the reward circuit. Its operation is based chiefly on two essential neurotransmitters: dopamine, which promotes desire, and serotonin, whose effects include satiety and inhibition. Many animal studies have shown that all drugs increase the production of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, while reducing that of serotonin.”

In fact, when rats receive direct electrical stimulation to their nucleus accumbens, they will bar press to receive more until they drop from exhaustion. When the recover, they go right back to bar pressing again.

I can’t help but wonder if these increased amounts of dopamine are negatively impacting people of all ages. There is a substantial amount of research that seems to suggest that is indeed the case.

What happens to the children’s brains?

Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis, the director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, has shown that babies who play with iPads are unable to translate their two-dimensional experience with Legos or virtual building blocks, to the the real, three-dimensional world.

Furthermore, the number of teens who reported drinking and having sex has declined since the advent of the iPhone. At the same time loneliness, depression and self-destructive behaviors such as cutting have tripled among girls ages 10-14. When screen time is limited, loneliness and depression decline significantly.

What this means for you, your family and your business

For those of you who have children or grandchildren under the age of 24 months, limit their time with an iPad or phone to video chatting.

In terms of your older children and teenagers, there are quite a few parental control programs to limit and monitor their use. Examples include Teen Safe, My Mobile Watchdog, Net Nanny, plus an additional list of 10 iOS apps at Hongkiat.com. These apps help keep your children safe from both predators and bullying.

Moreover, by limiting your child’s exposure to screen-induced increases in dopamine, you may be lowering the risk that your child will suffer from an addiction or mental disorder later in life.

How to reduce screen time

The easiest way to reduce the amount of time screen time for your loved ones is to replace it with a different activity that engages their full attention. Provide them with physical experiences. Activities that work well include most types of athletics, martial arts, dance, band, choir, painting, crafts, model building, etc.

By the way, if you want to stop your teen from texting and driving, get a car with a stick shift.

Why relational, not digital, selling matters

In a world where many younger people are feeling increasingly isolated, building a strong face-to-face relationship is more important than ever. Their initial way of relating to you may be through their mobile device, but being face-to-face adds a depth to your relationship that you would never be able to achieve on screen.

Begin this process by providing your clients with samples of executed contracts, required disclosures, a timeline of what will happen when they put a property under contract, FAQs, moving tips and any other information they will need to close the transaction. This helps you become a trusted resource rather than a trusted expert who tells them what to do.

Also, be diligent about doing what you say you will do, respond as quickly as possible to their inquiries, and do your best not to show your frustration or impatience with their never-ending stream of questions.

When you take clients out to look at property, provide them with a multi-sensory experience. Examples include playing their favorite type of music on your way to showings, stopping for coffee, hot chocolate, or if it’s warm, a cold drink.

If you really want to kick it up a notch, here’s how one agent marketed her million-dollar-plus vacant desert lots outside Scottsdale:

When buyers expressed an interest in a specific lot, they were invited to a special dinner. A limousine arrived just before dusk and whisked them out to the property. When they arrived, there was a beautiful table set with a white linen table cloth, fine china and silver.

After they were seated, they were served a gourmet meal with premium wines. The agent’s goal was for them to have a truly memorable sunset dinner at the site of their future home.

As you begin your 2019, look for more ways to spend experience time rather than screen time with your loved ones. Also seek to bring more face-to-face personal experiences into your business relationships.

In a world where so many people are feeling increasingly isolated, experiences are a wonderful gift that you can share at almost any time or place.

Bernice Ross, President and CEO of BrokerageUP (brokerageup.com) and RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, author and trainer with over 1,000 published articles. Learn about her broker/manager training programs designed for women, by women, at BrokerageUp.com and her new agent sales training at RealEstateCoach.com/newagent.

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