Technology continues to play an ever-increasing role in our lives. That’s a fact of life in the 21st century. Still, it’s important to consider the impact that this might be having on the mental health of teenagers and young adults. Technology does bring potential benefits and opportunities, but it can also have a darker side. Let’s look at the relationship between technology and mental health.
One of the main concerns around technology and mental health is the impact that social media can have. Social media can be a great way to connect with friends and family. It can also lead to feelings of anxiety and low self-esteem. This is because social media often presents a distorted view of reality. People are often only sharing the best parts of their lives and carefully curating their online presence. Teens find themselves comparing their low moments to someone else’s highlights.
For students who are already vulnerable to these kinds of feelings, this can be particularly damaging. Studies have found that increased social media use is linked to higher rates of depression and anxiety in teenagers. Other studies suggest that social media may contribute to feelings of social isolation. Young people spend more time interacting online and less time engaging in face-to-face social interactions. One scientist characterized it this way: “Social media was like a nuclear bomb on teen social life.” In chapter 6 of Beyond the Spiral, we talk more in-depth about how we can feel lonely, even though it seems like we have a lot of friends.
Another concern when it comes to technology and mental health is the impact that screen time can have. With so many devices and screens available, it’s easy for young people to spend hours each day glued to a screen. While this might seem harmless, studies suggest that excessive screen time can have negative effects on mental health. A study of 6,500 12- to 15-year-olds in the U.S. found that those who spent more than three hours a day using social media might be at heightened risk for mental health problems. Similarly, a study of 12,000 13- to 16-year-olds in England was conducted. It found that using social media more than three times a day predicted poor mental health and well-being in teens.
The Mayo Clinic cites studies that have found that increased screen time is associated with poorer sleep quality. That lack of quality rest can contribute to a range of mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. Additionally, other studies have indicated that excessive screen time may contribute to attention problems and hyperactivity in children and teenagers. In chapter 4 of Beyond the Spiral, we address the need for healthy sleep and how it contributes to our mental health.
Tech as Help
Not all technology use is bad for mental health. Some technologies have been developed specifically to support mental health and well-being. There is now a range of apps and tools available that can help young people to manage stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
Sign to Watch
Still, it’s important to be mindful of the potential risks associated with technology use and to take steps to minimize these risks where possible. Here are a few tips for parents who are concerned about their child’s technology use and mental health:
- Set limits on screen time: It’s usually not practical to completely eliminate screen time. But it is important to set limits on how much time your student spends in front of a screen each day. This could mean setting specific times of day when technology is off-limits or using tools to monitor and control your student’s device use.
- Encourage face-to-face social interactions: While social media can be a great way to stay connected, it’s important to encourage your teen or young adult to spend time with friends and family in person. This could be as simple as making time for regular conversations and catch-ups.
- Model healthy technology use: Children often model their behavior on that of their parents. It’s important to lead by example when it comes to technology use. This might mean setting aside time each day to unplug and engage in other activities or using technology in a mindful and intentional way. But if we’re checking our phones while telling our teens how to manage their use, the message will not play the way we hope.
- Be aware of warning signs: It’s important to be aware of the warning signs that your child might be struggling with their mental health. These might include changes in behavior, like increased irritability or withdrawal or changes in sleep patterns. If you’re concerned about your child’s mental health, it’s important to seek support from a mental health professional.
Technology can be a double-edged sword when it comes to mental health in young people. There are certainly some risks associated with excessive technology use. At the same time, there are ways in which technology can be used to support mental health. Technology and mental health aren’t necessarily enemies of each other but, if used incorrectly or excessively, technology can have negative consequences.
Visit our website and download the free resources that are available, including the Feelings Wheel which helps us understand the root of our reactions.