• John Hasse

Young People and Technology Addiction

What’s the first thing you wake up to and the last thing you see before you hit the sack?

You guessed it. Your smartphone.

Binge-watching Netflix, swiping left and right on dating apps and scrolling through Facebook – that often sums up the average day of many kids.

We feel we need our tech gadgets everywhere and at all times – whether we’re in the restroom, at the breakfast table, or on a romantic date. Heck, we even need them even while walking down the street. What was meant to improve the quality of our lives seems to be doing the exact opposite.

Teens are especially vulnerable to developing an addiction to technology. Now more than ever, parents need to think about how they can help their kids find the right way to interact with technology.

Distraction Crisis

The technological onslaught has made us more distracted than ever. We lack focus. We lack self control. Chances are you won’t be able to complete reading this post without being distracted by another tech gadget.

Research shows that distracted driving is a growing problem. So much so that it has increased the risk of being involved in a fatal crash by 66%, according to a report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Distracted walking has even become a contributing factor in many accidents over the last few years. In fact, the Hawaiian city of Honolulu has had to start fining pedestrians up to $99 to ensure their heads are up and their phones are down while crossing the road.

Technological Effects on Social Relationships

Everyone has scores of Facebook friends and Instagram followers nowadays. What’s hard to find is deep, meaningful, in-person relationships.

We don’t understand that we can’t substitute electronic relationships for physical ones. We know how to communicate with the person sitting miles away, but don’t know what to say to someone sitting right in front of us. In fact, face-to-face interactions cause many young people high levels of stress. Consequently, just like an alcoholic turns to a bottle when, more and more kids are turning to social media rather than a person to cope with their emotional discomfort.

With technology’s potentially devastating impact on young people’s social wellbeing, it’s no wonder many in the tech world have shown concern. Steve Jobs was noted for saying he didn’t like the idea of having his children near iPads while Tim Cook, the current CEO of Apple, recently said the following on his visit to Harlow college in Essex: "I don’t believe in overuse [of technology] ... I don’t have a kid, but I have a nephew that I put some boundaries on. There are some things that I won’t allow; I don’t want them on a social network.”

The Instant Gratification Mindset

Ever lose your cool when your computer freezes? Or when your Wifi is slow?

Instant gratification has become an expectation because we have everything right at our fingertips. Think about it. Clothing. Food. Taxis. Furniture. TV shows. Dates. There’s an app for everything.

And when we don’t get something in a jiffy, we feel frustrated and anxious. This no-waiting technological world has made real life - which often requires patience, struggle and perseverance - seem daunting and harder than ever to navigate.

Dopamine Design

Ever wonder why we can’t put our gadgets down? What keeps us liking, typing and swiping?

The culprit is dopamine, a highly addictive brain chemical that makes us feel happy. The same boost of dopamine we get when we smoke, drink or gamble is also elicited when we receive a text or a like on Facebook. It’s why we keep checking our smartphones over and over, hundreds of times a day.

Given that most social media platforms are free and that they earn their revenue from advertisement, it is likely that they’ll continue to exploit our dopamine vulnerability to keep us hooked.

Now the question is, what can we do to break away from this insidious psychological loop that’s plaguing our society?

Solution: Mindfulness

Technology is not all bad as long as we are careful about how we use it. Parents should realize this and consider what they can do to help their children.

Here are a few ways parents can take action and promote a mindful use of technology:

  • Make screen time social. Time with technology doesn't have to be alone time. Make some popcorn and watch a movie together. Play a multi-person game on your phone. By making technology an interactive experience, parents can not only monitor their children’s screen time but also show how technology can strengthen bonds between people.

  • Put physical limits on devices. Consider turning your router off at night and recharging devices outside your child's room to minimize temptation and encourage sound sleep.

  • Create technology-free time. For example, ask everyone to put their phones away and turn off the TV when having dinner.

  • Take the time for technology education. Educate your kids about the importance of cyber privacy and warn them about the dangers of online predators and bullying on social media.

  • Take your child to a tech-free adventure vacation. Leave the phones and the iPads at home while you take a hike, a live concert or enjoy a sunset.

  • Give non-technology gifts. Consider giving your child your favorite book, a bicycle or a musical instrument for their next present instead of the latest tech gadget.

  • Be a role model for your child. Take a mindful approach towards your use of technology – this means putting down your phone or tablet and actively engaging with loved ones when you are with them, both at home and outside of the house.

  • Ask for help when breaking habits. Seek professional assistance for your child’s technology addiction if you don’t feel capable to handle it on your own.

It’s time for parents to acknowledge technology’s role in their children’s lives. Being mindful of how the plethora of technological gadgets affects the day-to-day life of young people physically, psychologically and emotionally is a huge step in modern day parenting. Creating a supportive space for kids to overcome challenges that require patience, compassion and concentration is of utmost importance for future generations if they are going to develop a sensitive social awareness, build in-person relationships and become successful and mindful global citizens.

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