Kids & Technology
A Two-Sided Equation: The Positive and Negative Effects on Mental Health
by Deandra Comer, M.A.
A World of Technology
In 2020, as part of normal growth and development, children are introduced to technology at an early age. The Covid-19 pandemic has further exasperated the need for children to be accustomed to a virtual world. In a season of quarantine, many kids and teenagers use technology for their academics, socialization, and entertainment. In recent months, technology has become even more of a life necessity. However, even before COVID-19, the love of all things tech was on the rise. Many children would rather stay inside on their device or watching television rather than going outside to ride their bikes or scooters, climb trees, or just run around. Many teenagers choose to Snapchat and text in the same room rather than engage in face-to-face conversation. Lots of high school children play video games and face time their peers without even taking a break to eat dinner. Many teens do not even need to leave their bedrooms on the weekends or at night, because everything they need can be accessed through a screen. Matthew 6:33 says,
“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, live righteously and He will give you all you need.”
A lot of the time, kids and teens are not seeking the Lord and trusting Him to meet their needs. Instead they have elevated technology as a god in their lives and relying on it to meet their needs. Children have adapted to E-learning being a major part of their educational experiences, social media as a major factor in their social experiences, and video games, YouTube videos, and television as the largest form of entertainment. While technology makes it much easier to accomplish things faster, and makes unlimited amounts of knowledge accessible with the click of a mouse, there can be both positive and negative effects on mental health, especially for children who are still in their developmental stages (Walmsley, 2020). It is the responsibility of educators and parents to teach healthy technology habits to their students and children.
There can be both positive and negative effects on mental health, especially for children who are still in their developmental stages.
Technology helps kids and teens learn self-expression while also enhancing their individual interests.
Technological advances in the twenty-first century have impacted all aspects of life for children and teenagers. While technology and internet use with children is controversial, there are many positive factors for adolescents. Internet use helps to develop one’s individual identity and shapes creativity. Young people spend countless hours a day on social media sites, playing different types of games, and developing webpages and profiles to showcase what they want others to know about themselves. This helps kids and teens to understand and learn self-expression while also enhancing and helping understand their individual interests. Technology is used in various opportunities for learning. Adolescents can learn offline skills by engaging in online platforms. They can watch video tutorials, and engage socially. Technology is now used for academic development. Technology allows educators to engage all different types of learning styles; audible, visual, and kinesthetic (Bannon, 2015). Technology can be used in developing social groups amongst adolescents. With the increase in connectedness that technology offers, everyone can find an online group in which they relate. Often times, technology can actually enhance individual self-esteem and wellbeing (Sussman, 2018).
Depression, anxiety, and self-harm amongst people under the age of eighteen has been on the rise since 2010. Research suggests one of the leading factors in this rise is technology, specifically social media. The rise is more significant in girls than boys and much of this can be attributed to boys spending more time gaming and less time on social media platforms. For girls their status and social life revolve around their need to be included, not excluded. Social media enhances the fear of missing out for most females. Social Media facilitates relational aggression and gives mean girls a platform for bullying (Haidt, 2020).
Smartphone addiction is still thought to be a cliché, but it can have devastating effects on adolescents. It can lead to a number of behavioral disorders not limited to depression and loneliness. Technology addiction leads to isolation, which negatively affects one’s mental state. Isolation can lead to aggression, low social skills, depression, and anxiety. Unlike addictive substances there is no chance of physical dependency. However, many smartphone apps are made to trigger the same pleasure-seeking centers of the brain that opiates and drugs do (Spangler, 2018).
Binge watching is prevalent amongst all age groups of people. Binge watching even wholesome television shows can have potentially negative health issues. Many children binge watch T.V. to be removed from reality. They are not connecting with other people and are not developing necessary social, motor, or emotional skills. Netflix CEO made mention that their biggest competitor was sleep. For many kids and teens they get addicted to a show and they try to stay up all night watching. Adolescents have a hard time realizing the potentially serious problems that sleep deprivation and escaping reality can cause. Often times, virtual worlds can become more real to a child or teen than the real world. This leads to confusion and unhappiness that has the potential to lead to much more dangerous mental health issues (Spangler, 2018).
Overuse of technology is linked to depression and suicidal thoughts. Kids and teens that spend three hours a day or more on electronic devices are thirty five percent more at risk than those that spend an hour or less a day. Adolescents who spend five hours or more a day are seventy one percent more likely to commit suicide. Whether you consider this to be an addiction or just overuse, the consequences remain enormous. It is difficult to determine cause and effect in terms of technology and mental health. Are depressed children the ones who use social media and devices the most? Or is it that social media and devices lead to depression and anxiety? While hard to determine the cause and effect, the correlation between the two is something that cannot be ignored. Devices and mental health issues go hand in hand (Spangler, 2018).
Many smartphone apps are made to trigger the same pleasure-seeking centers of the brain that opiates and drugs do.
In moderation, technology can do a lot more good than harm in the lives of kids and teenagers.
Finding The Right Balance
Educators and parents are on the front lines with helping children learn to navigate appropriate amounts of time and uses of technology. Teachers should create opportunities for children to interact in their classrooms. They should facilitate eye contact, speaking in front of others, and even the use of nonverbal cues. Students should be given many opportunities to work with others in a group setting. This helps them work on problem solving, conflict resolution, and to value others opinions as important and their skills as necessary. In the same way teachers should show their students how beneficial technology can be. Help them to learn to use technology for good! Educators and parents alike should give a child many opportunities to use face-to-face social skills. Give them plenty of opportunities to interact without the use of technology. Time with peers is crucial throughout development (Walmsley, 2014).
Parents should have rules at home about children and technology. The rules about TV, tablets, and phones should be clear and concrete. A great house rule may be that all devices charge throughout the night in the same room, such as an office or family room. Adult caregivers should encourage conversation at the dinner table. The dinner table could easily be a technology free zone for all family members including the adults. Parents should model both in person relationships and virtual relationships for their children. Adolescents should see their parents interacting on Facebook or Instagram, but in a healthy way. A technology corner is a great thing to implement in a home. This encourages accountability for kids and parents. Parents can easily monitor the time on a device and what kids are doing on a device. It is the role of a parent to teach the child how to operate in a virtual world the same way they teach how to interact face-to-face. This cannot be accomplished when parents are not involved in a child’s virtual world. Parents should be in full control of their children’s virtual world. They control what devices the child has access to, the amount of time on the device, and what children are allowed to do on the device (Walmsley, 2014).
Romans 8:28 states,
“All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purposes.”
Even technology works together for good! In moderation and with good intentions, technology can do a lot more good than harm in the lives of kids and teenagers. Over the last several months, during the pandemic, technology has made academic teaching possible, socializing during quarantine a reality, and offered entertainment when there were not many other options. The possibility of being more connected than ever before is made possible by technology being so easily accessible. The goal of the enemy is to steal, kill, and destroy and in the past several years one of the biggest avenues he uses for destroying God’s people is technology. As adults it is our responsibility to guard the hearts and minds of children and to keep Satan from his purpose of robbing them of life to the fullest that His word promises! The potential evil of technology does not have to have a foothold in the lives of children. Even in the twenty-first century where technology is so prevalent and easily accessible kids, teens, and adults can experience abundant life.
Haidt, Jonathan, and Nick Allen. “Scrutinizing the Effects of Digital Technology on Mental Health.” Nature. 578.7794 (2020): 226–227. Web.
Spangler, Todd. “THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON APPS: Technology Designed to Hook Users May Be Creating a Mental Health Crisis, Especially Among Kids – and Tech Companies Are Feeling the Heat.” Variety 339.9 (2018): n. pag. Print.
Sussman, N., & DeJong, S. M. (2018). Ethical Considerations for Mental Health Clinicians Working with Adolescents in the Digital Age. Current Psychiatry Reports, 20(12)http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.liberty.edu/10.1007/s11920-018-0974-z
Walmsley, Angela. “Unplug the kids: technology isolates children from each other and may be hampering their communication and collaboration skills.” Phi Delta Kappan, vol. 95, no. 6, Mar. 2014, p. 80. Gale In Context: Biography, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A367421220/BIC?u=vic_liberty&sid=BIC&xid=24a2dead. Accessed 27 Oct. 2020.