Are Social Media & Technology Really That Bad for Teens?

are social media and technology really that bad for teens

Takeaway: Social media and technology aren’t ‘all good’ or ‘all bad.’ And recognising this nuance makes it easier to harness their positives and sidestep their negatives. The trick is to pay attention to your teen’s needs and behaviour. When children overuse social media, games, and online activities, it’s often because they’re struggling emotionally. So, spotting and addressing your child’s stressors will do more good than battling her about screen time.

Most of us intuitively recognise that technology can complicate our children’s lives.

Parents have always been sceptical of how technology influences children. For example, in the 1940s, people worried about how radio could be corrupting young minds. In the 60s, TV became the problem. In the 90s, it was computer games, and now it’s the internet. But just because there’s a pattern to our fears, it doesn’t mean they’re not valid concerns. We intuitively know that today’s technology (social media, the internet, mobile gaming, etc.) does bring at least a few negative consequences – especially because it’s so immersive. After all, you can’t get lost in radio/TV programmes the way you can in social media and the internet.

We need to pause for a moment, though, and ask whether things really are that bad.

But we can’t go back in time and ask those children new questions. So we’re limited to whatever information surveys happened to have already collected.) Also, there’s another factor at play. Are children more depressed and anxious now, or are they just more open about it? And finally, how do we know these mental health trends are all due to technology? Could wider social and political changes cause them instead?

Remember, technology can also help improve children’s lives. For example, social media can help them stay more connected.

Social media gets criticised for encouraging only superficial connections. But this isn’t always true. There’s a great sense of connectedness and belonging with many gaming communities, fan networks, and creative collaborations that pop up online. This is especially helpful for children with social anxiety who don’t like in-person interactions with large groups. Through these online friendships, they get a chance to practise their social skills, form deep and meaningful bonds, and ask for support during tough times.

Technology also makes it easier for teens to reach out to counsellors and therapists.

Online therapy is often easier to organise, more convenient, and more affordable than in-person sessions. Teens can reach out for help wherever they are (geography isn’t a factor) and stay anonymous if they’d like. Also, mobile apps offer community-based support for mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Some even have guided sessions using principles from cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness therapy. And here in England, we have organisations like Digital Mentality that create health apps and e-learning/therapeutic courses to support teens through life challenges.

And then there’s the magical world of pro-social gaming.

There’s a new breed of online games that do more than just entertain. For example, the game ReachOut Orb is designed to get teens to interact in a virtual world but develop real-life skills like adopting a growth mindset, identifying their strengths, and being accountable for their actions. There are also lighter, fun games that help with mental health. For example, in Fez, teens solve puzzles and learn to be ‘in the now.’ In Dear Esther, they can leisurely explore an idyllic island with only a narrator’s voice for company. And there are challenging games, too, like the breakout hit Minecraft. Here, teens can design entire worlds in painstaking detail – down to the most mundane things like plumbing and electrical systems for houses.

By acknowledging technology’s positives, we can be more balanced when dealing with its negatives.

Rather than being at war with technology, it makes more sense to embrace its positives and sidestep its negatives. So, what are some of the drawbacks to look out for? Well, the first is the impact screen time can have on your teen’s sleep. The blue light from screens will interfere with her sleep-wake cycle, and she’ll likely forget to wind down if she’s busy scrolling through her Instagram/Facebook feeds. The second drawback is the content your teen sees on these apps. For example, Instagram influencers often unintentionally trigger disordered eating and body image issues because of their seemingly ‘perfect’ physiques. And photos of people’s peak experiences (holidays, presents, parties, etc.) can cause many teens to feel like their lives aren’t exciting enough. And finally, there’s cyber-bullying, which can be worse than regular bullying because it follows your child home – via her mobile.

What’s vital here is to keep an open and honest conversation going with your teen.

You’ll be able to sort out most tech-related problems by using commonsense rules like limiting screen time and monitoring what your child does online. For example, many parents settle on a daily limit of 2-hours of screen time on weekdays and 4-hours on weekends. (You can install app blockers on your child’s devices, and they’ll shut down games, browsers, and social media apps after your pre-programmed daily limit.) But, more valuable than this is to pay attention to your child’s needs and behaviour. Children who are struggling emotionally tend to be more vulnerable to overusing social media, games, and online activities. So, talking to your teen about her problems will do more good than battling her about screen time.

If you feel your child’s mobile or computer habits are beginning to affect her mental health, consider consulting a specialist.

Have you noticed your child’s behaviour or personality change? For example, is she losing weight, withdrawing socially, getting more irritable, not sleeping enough, etc.? If so, consider contacting a specialist for support and guidance. At The Ed Psych Practice, we offer face-to-face and online assessments, consultation, advice, and problem-solving strategies for parents, nurseries, schools, and universities in London. We have psychologists, paediatricians, and therapists who can help assess your child and offer guidance and support. To consult with us or set up an appointment:

Want to see how else you can help your child? You might enjoy some of our other posts.

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