Technology Usage and Well-being
The research just doesn’t seem to agree: we can’t confirm that an increased use of technology reduces a teen’s well-being, and we can’t say that reduced well-being leads to using technology more often. So we should look at bigger factors to see how technology influences our teens’ lives, and we should ask questions of their daily use of technology.
For teenagers, both excessive use AND total non-use can have negative effects. It depends on the individual teen. However, moderate usage (between two and four hours per day) is linked to a number of cognitive and psychosocial benefits.
Cyber Addiction or Excessive Usage?
The fact that your teen spends several hours a day in front of various screens doesn’t automatically mean they’re addicted.
The constant presence of media in teens’ lives, as well as a great need for control felt during teenage years means that they often tend to spend many hours in front of screens. This could lead to a teen getting isolated, neglecting their school work, refusing to interact with their family, and adopting behaviour that parents don’t like.
On the other hand, cyberaddiction is a relatively rare phenomenon that only affects a very small percentage of teens. We know behaviour is cyber addictive when:
- A teen’s obsession with a game prevents them from functioning in their daily lives.
- They neglect their bodily hygiene in exchange for staying connected to the virtual world.
- Their relations with the real world deteriorate.
- They can’t stop themselves from playing, even when they know that their behaviour is problematic.
Only healthcare professionals can really tell whether a teen’s behaviour is truly cyber addictive. When in doubt, it’s better to see a professional rather than let worries take over our lives.
Some Myths About Screen Usage
Online Friendships Are Not Real
WRONG. Even if it’s very important to balance our online and offline lives, studies show that friendship is the main source of motivation for teens to be online. This includes maintaining and developing friendships on a daily basis, talking about more intimate subjects, and making new friends. These close-knit interactions can foster a feeling of belonging, which is a fundamental need for teens, and can give feelings of validation and understanding by peers, as well as getting social support online.
Screens Isolate Us
WRONG. If screens are used in a balanced way, they can encourage shyer or more socially anxious teens to get in touch with their peers and prove to themselves that they have the ability to create relationships, which can lead to better self-esteem. This means that it could be harmful to prevent these teens from communicating online. However, it’s important to pay attention to what teens are experiencing on the Internet, and to help them shift these successful social behaviours towards school, for example, or towards offline extracurricular activities.
Video Games Only Have Negative Effects
WRONG. Playing video games can have a number of benefits for a teen’s development. In the short term, it can help develop certain cognitive skills, such as attention and problem solving. But you should be careful as these effects are positive when teens also have other sources of stimulation, and when their attention, memory, and learning aren’t purely linked to video games.
Getting Involved is Key
Using technology can often become a source of conflict between parents and teens for a number of reasons, including a lack of understanding, parents feeling powerless, impacts on family life, worries about their teen’s development, etc.
It’s totally normal to be worried and to get the impression that we don’t know everything about our teens’ online lives. That’s why it’s important for us to get involved and be interested by trying to understand our teens’ interests and what benefits they can have. Keep in mind the things you should look out for to ensure that your teen is supervised in a healthy way, and to help make your teen aware about certain potential risks. You can also help them develop their own critical thinking and self-evaluation skills about technology usage, which will be useful throughout their entire lives, since technology will always be a part of it.
Putting Yourself in your Teen’s Shoes
The digital world has a major influence on many crucial aspects of teenage years these days (e.g. social relationships, identity development, exploring the world outside the family unit, and building autonomy). Using social media or wanting to stay connected isn’t just some passing fancy for our teens. Remember, not that long ago, when these technologies didn’t exist, we used to spend hours talking to our friends on the phone!
Online and Offline Life
In order to avoid our teens isolating or excluding themselves from offline social life through their use of technologies, it’s important to compare their online and offline lives. Are they pretending to be someone else on social networks, or are they genuinely showing who they are? Do they maintain their offline relationships as much as their online ones?
Talking To Your Teen
It’s not always easy to talk about technology and screen time with your teen. You should be careful to avoid making screens out to be evil while saying that only ‘real life’ is important. This could backfire on your teen who lives in a world where both realities are closely related, and where the line dividing the two is very fine. The world provides many tools for them to communicate, learn, and grow. Yes, parents have a crucial role in making sure that their teen uses these new tools in a balanced way, and with good judgment. But it can be useful to not trivialize the time they spend online, to ask them about how they see their usage, its advantages and drawbacks, without being judgmental. Just like with any other subject, a parent’s role is to support their children in their thoughts, giving them a safe space to do so, and helping them look for information.
Your Teen’s Emotions
It’s important to wonder about your teen’s emotions both when and after they use screens, as well as when they’re offline. The most important thing is to ask yourselves whether your teen is trying to escape some kind of problem by spending time on screens (in this case, you can help find another more suitable solution to help them with their emotions). You can also ask yourselves whether their screen use makes them feel sadder or more anxious, for example, or whether it affects their behaviour and interactions with others, and if the content they look at seems to be invasive after use. Don’t hesitate to study your teen’s emotions and behaviour relative to their screen usage, and to have open discussions on the subject.
Teenagers tend not to completely understand the potential consequences of their actions. This can lead them to take certain risks online, including revealing personal information, getting in contact with strangers, or showing their contact information. So it’s important to have an honest discussion about this with your teen. You could even give them specific examples and come up with potential situations to think about so that you can talk about it together.
Thinking About Your Own Usage
Asking yourselves about your own technology use as the adult of the home can be interesting. Do you follow the rules that you’re setting for your kids (e.g. no phones at the table)? When every family member respects the same set of rules, teens have an easier time understanding that they exist for good reasons and are set on foundations that apply to everyone.
LigneParents can provide you with other ways to promote healthy technology usage.
Source: Canadian Paediatric Society, Digital Health Task Force, Ottawa (Ontario)