If you are the caregiver or parent of a teenager, you know how important technology is and what role it plays in the lives of today’s teenagers. Not an hour goes by when most teens don’t click, post, or swipe.
Recent studies show that the average teenager spends 7.5 hours a day on some kind of digital technology. This figure rises to 9-11 hours a day, if you take into account multitasking and the many screens in front of which teenagers are at the same time.
In fact, in a recent study, 45% of teenagers admitted that they are “almost constantly” online, and as many as 9 out of 10 teenagers felt that spending too much time on technology is a serious problem of their generation.
So, is your teenage daughter or son’s technology just the latest thing to worry about, or is it really an addiction?
Learn more about teenage technology addiction and how to find help or treatment for your child and family.
Technology addiction among teenagers
Technology addiction (also called internet addiction or Internet use disorder, among others) is a broad term used to describe obsessive technology-related behavior – be it gaming, online shopping, social media, watching videos, or anything else related to digital technology.
Although “Internet gaming disorder” was classified as a mental illness by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2018 and may soon be included by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the international behavioral and mental health community does not yet recognize technology overuse as an official clinical addiction.
The obsessive use of technology actually has similarities with substance abuse and other addictions, including the activation of the reward centers of the brain, and can affect the white matter of the brain, such as the disruption of nerve pathways related to executive functions.
However, technology addiction in teenagers is significantly different from drug addiction in other ways. Dr. Matthew Cruger, neuropsychologist and director of the Child Mind Institute, explained: “With addiction, you have a chemical that changes the way we react, which causes us to depend on it for our level of functioning. That’s not happening here. We do not develop higher tolerance levels. We don’t always need more screen time to be able to function.”
More than likely, when we say that we are saying “tech addiction”, what we are really talking about is the feeling that teenagers have of not being able to give up a favorite game or their cell phone, and the negative behaviors that can occur when teenagers are made to give up on them.
In another study, half of the teenagers themselves admitted that they feel addicted to their mobile device, and three-quarters feel compelled to check their preferences in social media posts, “improve” their favorite games and / or respond to texts immediately.
However, tech addiction does not need to be clinically classified as an addiction to be a serious problem. Along with comparing tech addiction to “digital cocaine,” others have linked the increased screen time to the shocking rise in ADHD, adolescent anxiety, depression, and the rise in suicide.
5 Steps to Treat Technology Addiction
What really matters is whether the technology has a negative impact on the daily life of your child or family.
- Do you find that your child denies that there is a problem?
- Does the lack of a phone or Wi-Fi cause irritability or panic?
- Is your teenager sleeping less now or has his weight fluctuated?
- Have your daughter or son’s grades or friendships suffered?
- All of these are signs that the use of technology could get out of control.
Here are five tips to help your child overcome his addiction to technology:
1. Get out.
Building some technology-free distractions into the day can help. Go outside with your daughter or son and encourage them to join a club, volunteer at a shelter or local food bank, or create art or work with ceramics. Anything that (1) takes up your time constructively and (2) does not use technology is acceptable.
2. Become real.
One of the first signs that technology is a problem is to deny that it is one. So first, take a brutally honest inventory of your child’s technology habits. For example, if you are a gamer, set a timer and keep a diary of how often and for how long he or she plays.
For Android and iPhones, just use the Screen Time app included with the phone. The screen time gives a detailed overview of the time spent on the device, as well as what apps and websites were used, how often the device was picked up and other details about smartphone use. There are many other phone apps, extensions, and tools that can help your teen become realistic about the use of technology, and the first step is to have the information necessary to manage it.
3. Make a plan.
Do not let your child rely on his willpower alone. You will compete against the high-tech giants and the brightest minds in the world, all of whom are fighting for the attention of their daughter or son. Instead, make a plan.
Create a routine that adds other things to your schedule. For example, when your teen wakes up, have him get a glass of water, open his windows, stretch, look at the sun and sky (cheesy as it sounds) before looking at his cell phone. When you come home from school or work, repeat this with new tasks, for example, taking out the dog, preparing a snack, etc. Whatever you decide, let them pick a few tasks before logging in to their gaming, social media, or other tech accounts.
4. Start small.
Once your child is aware of the average daily use of technology, he can think about how to reduce it. Plan to start small, for example, take a break during meal times or reduce technical use by one hour a week. You can set limits through the screen time app or any app/tool you like. You can also set alarms and notifications to remind you when you need to take a break and to keep you honest.
5. Recognize when you need to seek help.
Sometimes the addiction to technology, even with the best intentions, plans and tools, is too big a challenge to master on your own. Often, a serious addiction to technology is a symptom of an underlying problem that needs to be addressed, such as ADHD, depression, low self-esteem, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or unresolved trauma. If problems with excessive gaming, smartphone use, or social media addiction are affecting your child’s health, home, academic performance, sleep, or social life, maybe it’s time to talk to a professional.
At Embark Behavioral Health, we have specialists who can help families and teenagers in difficulty find a balance and put technology back in its place.
Embark addresses all the underlying issues, instills positive coping skills, and gives teens the confidence and tools they need to succeed.