For as long as screen-based technology has existed, concerned parents have questioned the potential consequences of its presence in the lives of their children. Even when it was limited to devices like a television set in the family room, the fear that technology could developmentally stunt children and adolescents was alive and well.
That anxiety feels more prevalent than ever; with the rise of the smartphone, our cultural use of technology has increased exponentially over the last decade. A 2018 study conducted by Pew Research found that 45% of teenagers say they are online almost constantly, compared to 24% in 2014. This figure does not take into account the number of teenagers who report being online several times daily, which was 56% in 2018. At this point in time, almost 90% of teenagers surveyed say that they are online a minimum of several times a day.
This trend doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, and the parental inclination to exercise caution is legitimate. Though the pattern is too recent to have any longterm studies on the consequences, data does indicate that unmanaged technology use can cause many developmental problems, particularly for young people. Let’s take a look at a few of the common concerns regarding the significant uptick in child and adolescent technology use.
Consequences for social skills
On any given day, teenagers are likely to have far more social interactions via an electronic device than in person. Not only does this constant sense of anonymity make it increasingly easy for bullying to thrive, it has also made our children less comfortable with social interactions. Skills like eye contact, active listening, verbal confidence, and responsiveness to body language are acquired with time and practice.
This time and practice, however, involves trial and error. Communicating through a device can offer the feeling of connection with a reduced sense of vulnerability. However, it can also leave young people with significant gaps in development. Social skills are a requirement for successful, thriving adults. They allow us to develop emotionally intimate relationships, navigate interpersonal conflict, nail job interviews, create a professional network, and advocate for what we want in our lives.
Social resilience is a key component of personal growth. Consciously practicing person-to-person social interaction is critical. Although opportunities for this kind of connection are everywhere, overuse of electronic devices for communication may make it increasingly difficult to engage in them.
Consequences for sleep
One of the most significant potential consequences of technology overuse is the loss of adequate sleep. An appropriate amount of quality sleep allows our bodies to reset and our brains to release toxins and file memories, among many other things. Particularly for children and adolescents, who are still undergoing a significant amount of development, it is imperative to prioritize sleep.
Technology use can impact sleep in two ways:
The constant availability of entertainment and social connection through technology can make it challenging to set appropriate boundaries that allow for basic self-care, such as sleep. Modern devices and applications are designed to stimulate consistent use. Our brains release a hit of dopamine in response to notifications about everything from text messages to comments on social media posts to new episodes of our favorite shows. That feedback loop can be difficult to resist for even the most disciplined person. Putting the phone down and going to sleep is much easier said than done.
This is exacerbated by the blue light emitted by screens. This quality of light triggers the brain to believe it’s daylight, which suppresses melatonin production. Without sufficient melatonin, the body doesn’t receive signals that it’s time to go to bed. This disruption of the circadian rhythm can severely impair the desire or ability to sleep.
Consequences for mental health
Increased technology use has also been connected to higher incidences of mental disturbances such as depression and anxiety. Many researchers attribute this to the associated decrease in authentic social connection, which we are biologically wired for. Teenagers who frequently engage in online activity also report more common and intense negative feedback from their peers, which can negatively impact mental health.
In addition, overuse of technology can eat away at the time we might otherwise spend doing things that ground us and keep our bodies and minds healthy; exercise, spending time in nature, creative pursuits, laughing with family members and friends. These activities can easily be overshadowed or even replaced by the use of electronic devices; their benefits, however, cannot.
BrainTap’s Children and Learning Bundle is an invaluable resource as your children develop healthy practices related to technology, self-care, and stress relief. Check it out today!