How Can Overuse of Technology Affect Your Child

As adolescents and teens finish up their long winter’s break, many will have spent hours dipping into a smorgasbord of technology. More than 63 percent of adolescents go online daily, according to the site WebWiseKids. About 73 percent are on a social network, and 27 percent use their phones to get online. How can overusing this “virtual world” affect your child’s social behaviors? It’s enough to make you stress, or step back to assess the situation.

Signs of Techno Overdrive

  • Depression or anxiety – If your child is constantly on the Internet or texting friends, this behavior may harm his or her psyche, leading to stress, depression, or sleeping disorders.
  • Increased isolation – Playing video games constantly can keep players in a virtual world rather than spending time in the real one.
  • Grades dropping – Multitasking between email and Facebook may detract from completing schoolwork.

Are We Creating Technology Addicts?

According to UCLA Psychiatry Professor Gary Small, MD, we are making a generation of “techno addicts” or “digital natives” – young people who grow up with technology 24/7. Just how constant multitasking, while using technology, is affecting the teenage brain at a crucial phase in development has yet to be determined.

  • Multitasking is the new norm – Chatting via email while texting and searching online is commonplace for teens. Neuroscientist Marcel Just at Carnegie Mellon found that even an idle conversation takes a 40 percent bite out of brainpower. “Multitasking with no cost is a myth,” he says. He claims that two tasks can’t be done as well simultaneously as doing each one separately.
  • Training teen brains with video gaming – On the other hand, Daphne Bavelier, Professor in Brain and Cognitive Sciences at University of Rochester, says her research shows that certain video games can help improve attention, multitasking, and visual short-term memory.
  • Getting a natural “high”– Studies indicate that when we do something new or fun, we get rewarded with a “pleasure chemical” called dopamine. Many kids get this when playing new digital games and teens get this brain-boost when connecting via Facebook.
  • Prime time for ‘pruning’ – Adolescence is a crucial period in the development of the adolescent brain when some connections are strengthened while others that are not used are disconnected. Today, teens are flooded with technology, and many are constantly multitasking. But will their brains become less efficient at doing one thing really well?
  • Changing brain connections – Spending an excessive amount of time playing video games, surfing the internet, and texting—all at the same time—may rewire the developing adolescent brain. Jay Giedd, MD, a neuroscientist at the National Institute of Mental Health, is conducting a 20-year study of how the adolescent brain develops, hoping to learn whether growing up in the age of social media is making the brain better or not.

When Enough Is Enough

Parents often struggle with setting limits on technology use, says Stephanie Newman, PhD, a clinical psychologist, psychoanalyst, and author of Mad Men on the Couch. Here are some of her tips:

  • Recognize “oversharing”– Teens often run to Facebook with their grief. The same thing happens with posting compromising photos online. Learning and setting social media boundaries is essential because once something is online, it doesn’t go away!
  • Set texting guidelines – Spending time texting while driving (even though it’s illegal in most states) puts teens and others at risk. No texting while driving, period!
  • Making rules for family time – Some parents help improve communication in the family by making a rule that no one can use a phone at dinner, encouraging face-to-face conversation.

Next time you feel stressed awaiting “pings” in your teen’s in box, why not assess the situation instead? If you see your child is in techno-overdrive, try the tips given. Then rest assured you’ve helped your teen identify a healthy use of technology rather than worrying if it’s doing harm.

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