Screen Time and Technology "Addiction"
"Technology addiction"* is a new and rapidly growing problem among today’s population, but most susceptible are children and teens. Their brains are not fully developed, and without careful family rules and regulations, it may be difficult to tear them away from the seductive embrace of a tablet, phone, or video game system. Teens who struggle with issues like depression or anxiety may have even more problems with screen addiction, as they can withdraw from the stressful outside world and retreat into the “seemingly safer” world inside their phone or tablet.
Over time, adolescents can begin to experience symptoms of withdrawal when they are removed from their technological devices if they use them to excess. They may behave similarly to other addicts, becoming angry, anxious, and even somewhat aggressive if they are asked to take time away and do alternative activities.
Avoiding technology addiction is very difficult, as the society, peer pressure, and a desire for convenience make allowing children and teens access to electronic devices more and more necessary. The devices aren’t simply used for entertainment any longer, instead, they’re used to keep track of family calendars, communicate with loved ones, send and receive important messages in emergencies, and share pictures quickly and easily. While technology allows us to stay more connected with our friends and families than ever before, it can also have a darker side. Many applications that are used by and marketed to teens are designed with one thing in mind -- continued daily use.
An Environment Designed to Create Addictive Tendencies
Many technologies, particularly social media and games, are specifically designed to deeply engage users to keep them playing or scrolling through their feed. This is an explicit design choice and is supported by psychologists and design specialists whose goal is to increase ‘stickiness.’ The goal is to ensure that users log in on a regular basis, stay attached to the application, and engage with it as frequently as possible. In exchange, the individual using it gets the reward of a notification, a “like”, and response to a message. This doesn’t occur on any type of regular schedule, but it occurs just frequently enough to keep the teen brains engaged and interested. The very design of the app is stacked against the parent, and it’s nearly impossible to win. The programs themselves are designed to be addictive, to keep kids logging in and responding. And that’s just social networking applications -- gaming applications are far more overt and addictive.
Children Obtain Phones at Young Ages
Children are getting cell phones at younger and younger ages, with a large percentage obtaining their first smartphone around the age of ten. This is almost always done for good intentions, to allow connectivity between child and parent and to help keep the child safe, but can easily lead to negative consequences. Parents who want to keep their children in contact, but who don’t want them to have access to all of the elements of a smartphone, may want to opt for more than one device in the home, a flip phone for texting and calls and a tablet or computer for gaming and other communication.
Teenage and Adolescent Brains
The human brain isn’t fully developed for rational decision making until around the age of 25. This means that when you hand a teenager a smartphone with no parental controls on it, you’re providing them with free access to the internet, in the privacy of their bedroom, bathroom, and friends’ homes, without them having adult decision-making skills. It’s important to ask yourself if this is the decision that you want to make. Essentially, you’re setting the child up for failure, as their impulse control skills are far less than those of an adult, and while they may try to do the morally right thing, it can be extraordinarily difficult for them to always make the best decision. In some cases, they will be experiencing peer pressure to do the wrong thing. In others, they will be exposed to media that grown adults have issues staying away from. In still others, they may just make incorrect decisions. Their brains simply aren’t developed enough to fully process all of the risks at hand.
What Can Parents Do?