ARTICLE SUMMARY:This article takes a brief look at the definitions of tech addiction and signs that your teen might have a real problem with technology. Then, we offer suggestions about what you can do about it.
Over the last few decades, technology has become such an integral part of our lives that few of us can imagine life without our smartphones and the internet. There’s no doubt that we need technology to keep up in our modern world. No age group has embraced the digital world more than teens.
However, overdependence on tech can have serious consequences especially for teenagers who are still at an impressionable age.
Experts now recognize internet or technology addiction as a major diagnose-able problem affecting adolescents. What is it, in medical terms? Simply put, technology addiction is:
The frequent and obsessive tech-related behavior increasingly practiced by an individual in spite of the negative consequences they experience. It encompasses addiction to the internet, social media or video/computer games.
Why Is Technology So Addictive?
But what makes tech so addictive? To get the answer, you have to understand the effect it has on the brain. Technology appeals to our natural need for stimulation, connection, and interaction with others.
Digital interactions, such as those on social media, stimulate the reward center of the brain and trigger the release of the pleasure hormones dopamine and endorphins. This results in a sort of high as teenagers keep seeing replies to their social media posts. It’s also the reason why some teens, as well as many adults, get hooked on social media and technology.
The Problem With Digital Addiction
While most parents are aware of the dangers of addiction to narcotics, alcohol and other harmful substances, few are aware of the very real threat lurking right in their homes — teen internet addiction. Sure addiction to technology may not sound as bad as other addictions, but it can have serious implications nonetheless.
Data from several studies show that teens have complicated relationships with their smartphones. A Pew Research study reveals that now 95% of teens have smartphones or access to one. Furthermore, 54% of American teens aged 13-17 worry that they spend too much time on their phones while 56% report feeling anxious, lonely or upset whenever they’re away from their phones.
Although it looks harmless on the surface, technology addiction can have adverse effects on a teen’s life. Some of the consequences include:
Brain damage. Research now shows that technology addiction may actually damage the brain by producing neural pathways changes similar to those caused by drugs and alcohol. This, in turn, results in damage to the parts of the brain dealing with attention, emotional processing, and decision-making. Teens are particularly susceptible since their brains are still developing and any negative changes might have a long-term effect on the rest of their lives.
Health problems due to adopting an increasingly sedentary lifestyle thanks to being glued to their screens.
Higher risk for depression, anxiety, and even suicide. Teens who spend a lot of time on social media tend to have lower self-esteem and higher levels of depression than those who don’t. This might be because they’re exposed to unrealistic standards and expectations for beauty, life, etc. that they just can’t match up to.
Poor problem solving. Increasingly using the internet as a way to cope with the disappointments and challenges of life creates inability to manage stress. Technology can provide an escape from reality by giving teens a digital world where they can be anybody they want. Unfortunately, such escapism only encourages teens not to find solutions to whatever problems they face in the real world.
Neglect. Neglecting aspects of their lives like their academics, relationships with friends and family and even their health.
Lowered emotional IQ. Deteriorating interpersonal skills are also a result of too much tech.
Safety concerns. Risks of cyberbullying, online predators, and excessive exposure to pornography.
Sleep problems. Sleep disorders as teens opt to stay up all night playing games or chatting online.
Becoming angry or argumentative when confronted about their internet use.
Becoming irritable, anxious or depressed when not online.
Constantly interrupting their ongoing conversations or work to check their phones.
Lack of interest in activities they found enjoyable prior to having internet access.
Lying about or hiding their internet habits and online activities.
Neglecting household chores and schoolwork to spend more time online.
Preferring online interactions and video games to social interaction with friends and family.
Refusing to cut back on technology use and violating or evading set screen time rules.
Staying up late to be online.
Preventing And Dealing With Tech Addiction In Teens
Many parents are understandably worried that their teenagers are spending too much of their time immersed in technology to the exclusion of everything else. While imposing an outright ban on technology in your home might be impractical, there are other things you can do to steer your teen away from being addicted to technology.
1. Talk to your child(ren) about the dangers that lurk online. Teach them how to keep themselves safe by enrolling in a Digital Citizens course, like this one from Microsoft or with Google.
2. Monitor their technology use and set reasonable rules and limits. This works better if you let your teen have a say in setting these rules. For instance, you could have a rule that no devices are allowed at the dinner table. Or you might have an all family “No Tech Tuesday”. Another idea is to limit screen time by charging devices in a shared living area at least 2 hours before sleep.
3. Set a good example. Watch how you use technology as your teens might have emulated your behavior. You can’t expect them to cut back on screen time if they see you spending all your time with your devices.
4. Consider treatment if there’s a problem. Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) is a real thing and is becoming increasingly common among adolescents. If you notice that your teen is over-reliant on technology and has trouble controlling their tech use, seek help from a qualified professional.
Technology is an important part of our lives, but its overuse comes with risk. Finding a balanced approach to tech use is crucial if our teens are to live happier, healthier lives.
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