BALANCE – with time outside and exercise, face-to-face interaction with peers
SLEEP – blue light filter and no screens one hour before bed
FOCUS AND CONCENTRATION – taking breaks every 90 minutes
Our world is filled with technology…self-driving cars, smartphones, 4K Ultra HD televisions, video game consoles, etc., and our lives are made easier as a result.
According to a 2017 survey by Common Sense Media, 95% of U.S. teens have a smartphone, and 34% say that checking their phones interfere with their school work and interactions with other people (up from 17% in 2012). I am a big fan of technology, and I love the rapid pace at which devices are improved and new innovations are added to our lives. As a mom of three teens, and as a trainer who works with teachers in schools across the United States, I do have concerns about the impact of technology when we let too much of it in.
This article is not meant to convince you to stay away from technology. I do, however, think it is important to take a look at some of the ways that we know that technology overuse impacts teens.
- Obesity – According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 60% of childhood obesity can be attributed to technology overuse. Kids are not getting outside, playing sports or moving their bodies as much as they used to, and it is impacting their physical health.
- Focus and Attention – Teens are taking longer to complete homework because the average length of time they can maintain focus on a challenging or monotonous task (such as math homework!!) is 15 minutes. Teachers everywhere tell me that students today are different than they were just 10 years ago. It is harder to pay attention and persevere when obstacles come up.
- Mood – video games and social media have been shown to activate the “addiction center” of the brain. The reward center of the brain lights up when people “like” your post, or when you move to the next level in your video game. Then when mom or dad asks you to turn off your game and come to dinner, it is likely that you will feel moody and irritable when turning it off. Your body is releasing cortisol, a stress hormone, which means that you may feel symptoms of anxiety and depression. You may also feel anxious when you aren’t checking your phone every few minutes.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP, 2018) has made recommendations about how teens and children should use technology. The good news is that you can have a healthy relationship with technology when you follow these three tips.
- Balance – Almost everything is OK in moderation. Be aware of the urge to stay in your room all evening and watch Netflix or YouTube. Your friends are all meeting up on PlayStation at a certain time, but you haven’t finished your homework. These are temptations you may face on a daily basis, and it is hard to keep things in balance. But the first step to creating balance is to be aware of the temptations and have a plan in place for how you will limit yourself. What are the things you need to get done first? Have you set aside some time to socialize with your family?
- Breaks – One of the best ways to lessen the impact of technology on your attention and focus is to take breaks and allow your brain some time to reset. Research shows that children up to age 12 need a 30 minute break after 30 minutes of screen time. The recommendation for teens is to take a 15 minute break every 90 minutes of screen time. This break can be a walk outside, grabbing a snack, taking a shower or playing an instrument.
- Sleep – Getting enough sleep and a quality sleep is one of the most important things you can do to improve your health, mental health and your academics. Technology can get in the way if you are tempted to check your phone in the middle of the night, or if you are up late texting or playing Fortnite with friends. The light from the screen tricks your brain and makes it think it is day time. Your body doesn’t produce the melatonin you need to make you drowsy and fall into a deep sleep. Using the blue light filter on your phone will be helpful, as well as turning off all screens one hour before bed.
By following these three steps, you can have healthier technology use, and probably take some of the stress off of your relationship with your parents. They will see that you are making mature decisions about your screens and they will worry less about the potential negative impact on you. After all, you will probably feel better about taking control of your screen use and knowing that you are using it in a way that encourages your social relationships, academic learning and positive mental and physical health.
About the Author: Jennifer L. BASHANT, Ph.D., LMSW, MA, Monthly Mentor and Parent Mentor, owner of Building Better Futures, LLC, is a Parent Empowerment Coach with the mission to strengthen families by improving challenging behavior, reducing stress and providing optimism and hope that things can and will get better. She is extremely passionate about her work because she has raised a child with challenging behavior, and she knows, first hand, what it feels like to feel isolated, blamed and worried about the future. As a licensed social worker with experience in a variety of clinical settings, Jennifer shares her knowledge and expertise with parents in a way that is compassionate, authentic and relevant. Read More…