Tech Addiction in Teens
Technology has become a major part of teenagers’ lives. It can be used for educational purposes, communicating with friends, entertainment, and socializing. However, too much technology use has been linked to several problems, such as anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression. Technology use in the teenage and pre-teen years is highly problematic because it can stunt the brain’s development. Many teenagers are using technology for too long, to the detriment of their health, education, and future. Teenagers and pre-teens who are spending long hours in front of screens are not engaging in “unstructured play”, which is important to the development of the brain. In a study from 2018, “Some 45% of teens say they use the internet ‘almost constantly,’ a figure that has nearly doubled from those interviewed 4 years prior. With the ongoing problems and new realities of the post-COVID world, this has increased even more dramatically.
Signs of Technology Dependency in Teens
As a parent, it is important to recognize when your teenager is becoming too dependent on technology and help them find healthier ways of coping. Here are some signs that your teenager is dependent on technology and ways to help them avoid or treat their tech addiction. Here are some of the tell-tale signs of technology dependency:
- They use technology for a majority of their time, even when it is not a part of their daily schedule. (e.g. gaming after school, using the internet at the dinner table, playing on the phone in class, watching TV when doing homework, etc.)
- They use technology as a way of relieving or avoiding their emotions or problems.
- They neglect their physical and mental health in favor of technology. (e.g. not eating, sleeping, or exercising as much as usual.)
- They show signs of physical addiction, such as headaches, nausea, or sweating when they are not using their phone or computer.
The Developing Brain and The Impact of Tech Addiction
The adolescent brain is still developing and is more vulnerable to the effects of technology than the adult brain. The constant use of technology at a young age can harm, not only their physical health, but also their mental health. Tech addiction in teens only exacerbates these problems. The human brain continues to develop throughout adolescence and into the early 20s. The developing brain is still trying to process language, emotional development, and social skills. It is essential that teenagers have the opportunity to interact with their peers, read, write, and express themselves. Encouraging empathetic and constructive social interaction is critical to preventing the brain’s reward circuits from rewiring to reinforce the technology-addicted behavior. This can be done by helping to schedule time with family and friends or seeing what kind of extracurricular activities might be of interest. Team sports are a great way to get teens both active and social at the same time. If sports are too much of a stretch then there are still many options that have physical activity mixed in like theater work, music, and other arts programs. One key thing to remember is to not overtly force your teen into a situation that feeds on anxiety and depression that can further deepen their recusal into using technology as a crutch.
When to get professional help for tech addiction in teens
At some point you have to recognize when you are in over your head trying to help your teen or pre-teen with tech addiction. Professional mental help is nothing to be ashamed of and the sooner it is sought out, the easier it will be for everyone to overcome these hurdles. Starting counseling or therapy can be a great first step towards getting both a diagnosis and an action plan in place which may include mental and physical activities as well as accompanying medication or dietary changes. When this isn’t enough, there are several programs that work with teens specifically to alleviate these kinds of issues. BlueFire Wilderness is an industry leader in helping get teens back on track towards healthy growth. As a premier wilderness therapy program, they work with many issues revolving around emotional, social, and behavioral challenges which can include technology.