How Much Is Too Much: Technology Addiction and How to Manage It

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Between texting and social media, your teen’s phone is their lifeline.  It’s their way to communicate and stay connected with friends; in addition to everything else we can do with phones today as technology continues to develop.  But how do we know when the relationship with technology goes toxic? And what are the some of the effects of too much screen-time?

What causes it?

Why are kids (and let’s face it, adults) so obsessed with their phones? This concept is an article in itself, but it’s all about that chemical dopamine in our brains.  For the sake of this article, let’s focus on why teens are particularly vulnerable to technology addiction.

Instant gratification is a major factor in what is so appealing to teens with technology. They can post a picture and receive feedback within minutes, find out what all of their friends are doing with a flick of their finger, and watch anything they can dream of on Youtube. That feeling is a hard one to part with, particularly at this stage in a teens’ emotional development.

Dr. Kathleen Trainor, a clinical psychologist who focuses on treating anxiety in young people and founder of the TRAINOR Center, shared that kids retreat towards the phone for a variety of other reasons.  “It can represent an avoidance of social face-to-face interactions with peers and other social and/or physical extracurricular activities. This can be particularly true for kids on the autism spectrum as well as kids with social anxiety. Additionally, the distraction of the phone itself is attractive to kids with ADHD due to the constant stimulation as well as kids where executive functioning and procrastination are issues.”

 

Warning Signs

Jonathan Wolf, owner and founder of YouTime Coaching recommends asking the following questions when looking at potentially toxic behaviors or habits:

  • Is there an obsession (can’t stop thinking about it) with the activity?
  • Does it cause some type of harm (school/studying/grades with friends, relationships, etc.)?
  • If they go periods of time without using it, do they experience anxiety, anger, frustration, sadness, or increased irritability?
  • Are there already symptoms or a diagnosis of another mental health issue?

“The more questions you answer ‘yes’ to,” Wolf continues, “the more likely the relationship with technology has taken a dark turn.”

What’s the Risk?

Technology addiction is not a risk for everyone, but if you sense there is a problem, knowing why is very important.  For Jonathan Wolf, it comes down to two major areas: focus and empathy.

Focus

“Humans are not built to multitask but from a biopsychosocial standpoint, we have evolved to believe it’s necessary,” Wolf explains. And let’s face it: phones force us to multitask. The buzz of a text can stop us mid-sentence, an email can distract us from something we were working on, or checking Twitter can derail us for an hour. Our ability to focus can be severely impacted by the many options technology has to bring us back to the screen.

Empathy

Understanding and sharing another person’s feelings is part of what makes us human. So how is this at risk with today’s technology options? “Research has been showing that narcissism or some of its traits are increasing and one of the fingers is pointing at social media,” Wolf explains. “Although the face-to-face online interaction ratio may be a debate about why this is happening, it is clear that hours of practice with verbal and physical cues are being missed out on.”

Ways to Help

With so much out of our control, what can we do help our kids navigate technology usage in a healthy way?

Model Positive Behavior

Being mindful of your own behavior with your phone or tablet is so important, as your kids get their signals from you. Is your phone at the dinner table? Are you answering texts while driving? Are you talking to them while staring at your phone? (OK, guilty as charged on that one.)  We’re all navigating this ever-changing world of technology, but it’s important to remember that our kids are looking to us to set the tone.

Build in “Tech-free” Time

Encourage periods of time where phones or screens of any kind are not in sight. Get them involved in an outdoor activity, set limits for certain time of day where it’s not permitted at home, or take a vacation where the whole family takes a break to “disconnect” with technology. (My family did this last summer for a week and we all came back feeling refreshed.)

Make it Mindful, Not Mindless

Dr. Matt Hersh, a clinical psychologist with a focus on mindfulness, encourages parents to check-in with their kids on how they feel about their phone. “It’s so important for teens, whose developing brains are often strongly influenced by impulse and passion, to be ever mindful of their intentions behind their smart phone use, how certain apps and phone usage actually make them feel, and how automatically driven they are to simply pick up their phone in lieu of other activities or even practicing tolerating feeling something uncomfortable.” 

This is a topic that is not going away, and research will continue on the effects that technology has and will continue to have on our children. If you think your teen has an unhealthy relationship with technology, please seek the help of a medical professional. We look forward to continuing the dialogue on this topic with you in articles to come.


Written by Phase2Parenting


PLEASE NOTE: The writers of this article are not medical professionals. The information in this column is not intended and should not be construed as providing medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information and provide a perspective to better understand the lives of themselves and their children. Articles on this website may be opinion based. The articles are not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist, psychotherapist or other licensed medical professional. If you do have health or safety concerns, please get in touch with a healthcare professional.