Technology–it’s great when it works for us, right? We have relied so heavily on technology during the Covid-19 pandemic, that it has become an integral part of our daily lives. From zoom meetings to virtual schooling, to even the television we watch to relax; we are consistently tuned in to technology. However, it is imperative to wonder; how does this consistent exposure affect children?
Truthfully, the answer is a little double-sided. Let’s first talk about the positives. Technology has been wonderful in allowing children and teens to safely work or school from home during the pandemic. Students can also zoom in and explore options in a 3D model, leading to more enhanced learning. Students are learning basic preparation for work environments by having early exposure to word and excel documents as well as becoming more comfortable navigating technology. Moreover, kids today are incredibly informed as they have research databases and articles at the tip of their fingers, rather than just what their local libraries can offer. Kids can stay up to date on news, search articles for papers, and learn more about the world than ever before! Additionally, studies show that playing video games can increase levels of problem-solving skills and hand-eye coordination. Along the same vein, more and more educational video games are being produced and widely used in schools, allowing children to have fun while still learning. Not only this, but technology can also allow children to check in with family and friends and reach out in case of emergencies.
Clearly, there are a myriad of positive uses for technology. However, it is essential to understand the negative implications as well. First and foremost, let’s talk about how invested children and teens can get into their phones. We’ve all seen it, a teenager who is never without their phone and cannot be bothered. As it turns out this phenomenon may be closely aligned to the notion of what is referred to as FOMO, or the fear of missing out. Many feel as though if they put their phones down they are going to miss something from a friend or classmate and thus be left out of the loop. Subsequently, this sense of missing out can evolve and can potentially lead to nervousness and social anxiety. Interestingly enough, constant connectivity and online communication can leave teens feeling awkward during face-to-face interactions, perpetuating a cycle of social anxiety. As a therapist, I often hear how teens/kids would rather text a friend and talk to them, especially about sensitive issues, rather than having a face-to-face conversation. When this happens, the subtle nuance of nonverbal communication is lost, oftentimes misconstruing the meaning of or context of a message. This can further leave your child feeling anxious and confused. Also, access to technology can lead to social media, where everyone wants to put their best lives out there. As a result, kids and teens often compare themselves to others which can have a detrimental effect on their mental health, but we can explore that more in a later article.
Ever wonder why our phones have so many bright colors and fun sounds?
Well, our smartphones work similarly to slot machines; the bright colors and sounds, just like machines when gambling, stimulate dopamine (the “happy hormone”) responses in the brain and leave us craving more. As adults, we are more capable of regulating this desire. However, children and teens can struggle with this, as they know technology is something that connects them with friends and ultimately, makes them feel good.
In addition, access to technology is more readily available than ever before. It is not uncommon to find children watching television, texting a friend, and checking social media simultaneously. While this can increase their ability to multitask, it can potentially lead down the path of struggling with attention spans, subsequently resulting in feeling as if they need constant stimuli. As a result, we may see these children acting out in class, unable to concentrate or sit still, and/or having difficulty with recall. All of the aforementioned can be misdiagnosed as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder or ADD/ADHD when truthfully it can be leveled down to too much technology exposure.
The blue light emitted from our devices is similar to the effects we get from the sun.
It signals to our brains that we should be awake and energized. . As a result, watching television, playing on your phone or tablet, or having a computer next to you when going to bed can make your brain think, “hey, it’s still day and I need to stay awake and be productive” making it difficult to fall and/or stay asleep. . When this happens, it’s difficult to hit REM sleep, the restorative sleep, where our brains and bodywork on repairing themselves and feeling good and rested for the next day. When you miss REM sleep, you may feel groggy, grumpy, unable to focus or recall, and struggle adapting to new information or situations.
So, what can you do with all this information to help your child or teen?
Try to limit technology use when at home and encourage other types of activity that can help foster creativity and imagination.
This can be separated into two categories, creative play and physical play.
Encourage your child to read, play a board game together, attempt science projects, or try new hobbies. Also, physical play is important as well. Trying out new sports, bicycle riding, going for walks with or playing with dogs, can all result in other types of fun activities for your child. Encourage your child to have more face-to-face interactions with their friends. I understand that this can be difficult during a pandemic, so even a video call with friends would be more helpful than just a phone call, snap, or text. Have your child turn off all electronics 30 minutes before bed. This allows your child to adjust to the night without the blue light or the bright screens and lets their bodies start to relax more. Attempt to encourage reading, writing, or coloring as mental stimulation. This can also increase feelings of relaxation and wind children down.
I know some children and teens can struggle with dark, quiet rooms at night. If this is the case, attempt to leave a small night light on and put on a sound machine that can play relaxing noises.
There are so many things to watch out for and educate yourself about as a parent in the 21st century. The journey of parenting is never perfect, go easy on yourself and remember; connection, boundaries and consistency are the roots of what you are after. Your goal isn’t to be a perfect parent but, rather, a good enough parent to your kiddo!
Need a little extra help dealing with the your child’s technology use. Find out more about Greenway’s child therapy services.