As a parent, the chances you’ve seen some sort of negative behavior associated with your teen’s or tweens’ technology use is pretty high. Other times it may be that you can tell something is wrong but can’t quite put your finger on exactly what it is.
Your instincts are telling you that there’s a problem being caused by tech use, but it drives you crazy because you don’t automatically know that’s what is going on–or how to fix it.
We all want to protect our kids, To do that, we will do almost anything, even if it means at times we may not be their favorite person.
Nowadays, though, this mentality alone may not be enough as the unseen problems and dangers due to teen technology use continue to rise.
We have to do more and stay in tune to our kids.
One of these unseen dangers lies in the effect technology can have on our teens’ mental health. At this stage in adolescence, there are so many hormones and new emotions floating around that our teens are already at higher risk for mental health issues. In addition, teenagers don’t have fully developed brains, which leaves them at a disadvantage when it comes to making healthy decisions about their tech use. Combine this with fact that technology can be highly addictive, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Extended use of technology, especially social media, has been shown to cause increases in anxiety, depression, and sleep disruption. These negative impacts can be seen in anyone who isn’t properly regulating their tech usage, but the effects are much greater for teens.
Before the rise in technology, teens were already struggling with these issues. Add in tech overstimulation and it is like throwing gasoline on a fire. In moderate amounts, technology is a useful tool for your teen, but in excess, it is a slippery slope into a whole range of problems.
Tech Use Can Create Addictive Responses In Teens
It would be amazing if we could identify just one problem with tech that causes all these mental disruptions, but unfortunately, it isn’t that simple.
In the case of teens, often dopamine, a chemical that makes them feel happy, is partially responsible. When using technology of any kind for leisure, it has been shown that dopamine levels rise above the norm. This produces a feel-good response for them similar to that caused when eating good food, participating in a romantic situation, and most ominously when taking drugs.
This TED Talk by Psychologist Adam Alter breaks down this response, as well as what happens once the good feeling goes away.
Over-Stimulation From Gaming Can Make Teens Stressed And Angry
But that’s only building block one. Spiraling off into video game stressors, the opposite result can be seen.
In high-intensity games, certain in-game cues can cause high-stress environments. This can bring about raised internal aggression status and increase the stress of teens both when they are playing, and in the many hours that follow. Perhaps if it began and ended during the game, it would be less concerning, but these have shown to be rather long-term effects in many cases.
There is, of course, a balance in this world as well. Not all video game use is detrimental, but it is important to understand where gaming can begin to be a problem. Part of the issue is that it can be frustrating to actually find that balance or even know where it should be set. It is important to understand if video games are the root of your child’s anxiety or depression.
Social Media and Attention Manipulation of Teens
Social media is another popular way teenagers use technology, and it carries its own set of problems as well. While staying in contact with their friends seems harmless at first, that is just a small portion of how these apps creep into our teens’ and tweens’ lives.
Most of the teenage social media experience is simply spent scrolling, and as a parent, you’ve more than likely seen it go on for hours at a time. That is the tip of the iceberg.
Social media is quite literally designed to suck in the user’s attention, and this design works especially well on teens. For the companies operating these apps, their only goal is to keep the attention of their users for as long as possible–after all that’s the way they make their money.
The Social Dilemma is a documentary that takes a deep dive into these practices and breaks down both how and why they work so well. It brings to light facts about social media and marketing that are incredibly concerning, especially for our teens, ever more concerning once you realize how long they have flown under the radar.
With most tech, we are the consumers, but social media has turned us into the product. We make the creators money by interacting with their sites, and their interest now lies in our exploitation. If you’ve ever wondered why such an amazing service is free, this, unfortunately, is your answer. The companies who run social media apps make more money off of selling their users’ attention than they would off of just selling their products to their users.
The more evidence comes out, it has been revealed that most of these social media giants are not only very aware of the effects their services have on people, but are purposefully creating and executing it.
This is why we must step in and help our teens manage their tech usage. They designed these sites to trap our teens’ attention, and now we have to be the ones to break them free–or at least teach them how to manage it effectively.
Dr. Anna Lembke does a great job breaking down the science behind the specific effects of social media on the teenage mind in her interview with Teen Vogue, and explains what exactly these companies do to make it so enticing for your teen.
It’s Hard, But You Can Help Your Teen Manage Tech Use
Parents have to stay involved and set boundaries when it comes to all forms of tech usage. We are responsible for keeping our kids out of harm’s way, and right now, there may be nothing more dangerous to our impressionable teens than technology.
This doesn’t mean that we believe that all tech is bad tech, but we need to teach our kids how to be active about their tech usage, not passive.
If you’re like most parents, you are probably saying, “Easier said than done.”
Sometimes the arguments you have with your teen about their tech usage causes a major strain on your relationship. They were probably angry, pushed back, and perhaps even defied you or snuck around whenever you tried to cut back their tech use.
It can feel like a never-ending battle with your teenager that damages your relationship with them and leaves you feeling exhausted and disconnected from your kid. Not to mention, it can be easier to let them distract themselves with their devices when you need time for yourself.
But, we must stay engaged and monitor what can be addictive behaviors from our teens.
And depending on how much your teen uses technology, reducing or eliminating the time spent on electronics can be a rough ride for you both. Like any addiction, withdrawal from technology can produce similar reactions as withdrawal from caffeine, nicotine, or even drugs. You teen may become angry, agitated, and despondent. The dopamine response teens feel when using technology can make other things they used to enjoy seem less appealing, so the thought of replacing technology with something more healthy is not attractive. Also, they may feel like they are the only one who has rules when it comes to technolgy.
Tips To Help Develop Healthier Teen Tech Habits
It’s never too late to implement tech rules for your teens.
No, they probably won’t thank you for it. They will probably be angry and resistant. It’s not going to be fun.
But over time you will see benefits to doing it, including improved sleep patterns and mental health. And once they feel the difference, they may scale back even more on their own.
How exactly how should you approach it?
Involve your teen in the process: While we can’t promise this will make it easier, involving your teen in the process can help diffuse the situation. Try not to make it all about lectures, limits, and punishments. Instead, have a conversation and ask questions about how they feel when they use technology. Ask them how much they think they are on their screens, and then show them the actual amount. Explain how their tech use can affect their mental health and overall happiness. Share some articles with them. Ted Talks and podcasts in particular, can be particularly useful with teens.
Work together to create boundaries. Also, as you work to develop boundaries, allow them to discuss what they think would be healthy limits. Ask them to write down all the way they use technology and prioritize what’s most important. Take it a step further and have them work with you to discuss the consequences of violating the rules you develop together. While you are the final say, try to listen to your teen and accommodate what may be important to them (for example, playing video games with their friends late on Friday night is okay, but gaming needs to be limited on the weekdays.) This will not only help make them feel respected, but it also gives them more ownership in following the rules. (Check out this guide that helps teens create tech limits themselves.)
Don’t be inflexible. While rules are important, there’s no getting around that tech is an integral part of our lives, and sometimes we need it to complete tasks. For example, if you have a no tech after 9 p.m. rule, but your daughter is waiting for a friend to finish something for their group project, it’s okay to let her keep her phone a little later in her room. Or, remember that not all tech is bad tech. If your teen is using their device to workout, learn an instrument, or listen to a podcast, that’s different than mindlessly scrolling social media. Make sure your rules make sense.
Don’t only tell them to put down their phones. Show them how to fill the void. Remember, you are parenting the first generation raised on tech. They literally don’t know how to live a life that isn’t recorded or somehow supplemented by technology. We have to give them ways to fill their time that don’t involve tech–and model it ourselves.
The benefits outweigh the negatives
Over time, as your teens see the beneficial results of the reduced screen time and learn how to fill their time voids more constructively, you may see them manage their tech use with little guidance from you.
Finding a balance is never easy, and as parents, we completely get that.
But for the sake of your teens who don’t have the knowledge, understanding, or even brain development to regulate their tech use, you have to step in. We are in the midst of a crisis with our teens with rising rates of depression, anxiety, and even suicidality. We can’t take chances with their mental health.
Work with your teen to have a better relationship with their technology. Explain to them why it’s so important so that eventually, you can step back and let them maintain that healthy relationship for themselves.
Most importantly, be patient with your teen. They want what is best for themselves, too, but tech can have a very strong pull on their developing minds.
Work with them, not against them, and you’ll be able to see a difference in their mood, and yours.