Technology. Are we better off with it or without it? Can we keep up with the problems that it causes? These are the questions that are on everyone’s mind, especially those of us who deal with adolescents. Those of us who basically grew up last century (1950 1980) saw a lot of changes in technology. Those changes for the most part were ones that made daily life better. The television, computers, the internet, and different parts of the medical field (surgery, patient care, psychology / psychairy) to name a few.
What people did not realize were the issues and problems that technology could bring about mainly with adolescents and their mental health. An article in the New York Times points out that texting, which can be incredibly distracting, can take a toll on a teen’s mental health. From a study done by Pew Research Center, teens are texting over 50 texts per day, and one third of teens are texting 100 or more per day. One in seven teens send more than 200 texts. It’s easier, they say, to text than to make a phone call. Today’s technology is growing in leaps and bounds, much faster than it was during our childhood. Now we have so much social media Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat that it is hard to keep up with it.
When we were teenagers and we had a problem at school or with friends namely bullying it was usually dealt with quickly (either a physical or verbal fight or our parents meeting with the other teen’s parents or the school getting involved). Nowadays, it is not face to face bullying. Now the bullying is done on social media where the ENTIRE world is made aware of what is going on just down the block. This is where technology causes massive problems. Since, when social media is used, the person spreading the negative information or comments is sitting in front of a computer or looking into the screen of a smart phone and it doesn’t feel real because they are not seeing the impact or hearing what their comments are having on the other person. This is where it is very easy misinterpretations to happen. You don’t know whether the person is serious or just being sarcastic something that you can if you are face to face.
Nowadays, what with all the positive / negative technology that is available to teenagers, we as adults are having a hard time keeping up with it. While we are better equipped to handle most of what is thrown our way via social media due to our more developed coping mechanisms, teenagers are not able to do the same. What we had growing up (TV (7-9 channels) music (8-track, cassettes, vinyl records) was not necessarily instant gratification. Maybe according to our elders it was (since they had even less technology), but it is nowhere near what adolescents are facing today. Again, while we were teenagers, we had to wait for something (new electronics, new clothing, latest cellphone, a TV show we wanted to see and if we missed it oh well). Most of the technology now is basically an individual person using it and not a group, which leads to losing social skills.
Today’s teenager has a lot to deal with especially the negative impact of social media. They may deal with low self-esteem, depression and anxiety; a lot of which is normal in a teenager. But this is exacerbated by the immediateness of the different things that are posted on social media. They also deal with sleep deprivation which also affects their mental status as well as their academics. Think back to when you were a kid. You would lie in be reading a book under the covers with a flashlight so that your parents wouldn’t know what you were doing. Imagine a never-ending book social media something that you can’t put down because of the fear of missing out (FOMO) the next post, tweet, etc. Unfortunately, some teenagers haven’t made the connection between why they feel bad to what is happening online. And then to make matters worse, they don’t tell their parents or guardian, who normally would find somewhere where the teenager could seek help (mental health provider). They instead either seek out their friends, or in most cases a stranger online, which brings them right back to the problem not the solution.
What teenagers have a hard time doing is separating fact from fiction. We as adults also have a hard time doing the same thing, but I believe that we are more prepared to do it. Many teenagers may suffer from the grass is always greener on the other side. They read the different profiles that are up in social media and they believe that this is the truth of the person who posted it. They have no way of knowing if this is true or if this is just something that someone posted to make themselves better than what they are. That’s how so many pedophiles and stalkers get what they want. They post a picture of someone that does not even remotely look like them. They create this whole persona with like and hobbies, address and school that the adolescent can’t check (or doesn’t want to). Slowly they reel them in and then just dare them to meet somewhere so they can really get to know each other. There has also been a rise on stalking, pedophilia, kidnapping, etc.
Mental health providers are having a difficult time trying to make their teenage patients believe that everything that is posted is not necessarily the truth. Adolescents feel that if it’s posted then it has to be true. Plus, with the rising cost of insurance, many parents cannot provide their children with extended therapy. What many of the providers are suggesting is that parents get more involved with their children’s’ daily lives by having dinner together, shutting off technology for the weekend, checking their work from school, asking questions to ascertain if there are any problems can be nipped in the bud, have parents or adults explain that everything they read is not necessarily the truth. Teenagers have an intense need to be accepted by their social peers. And if they have to exaggerate to do this, then so be it. The only problem is that if they are caught in this lie not just the immediate area friends find out but the whole world does so as well.
Many teenage girls have body issues due to the perfect ones they see on Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. Some mental health providers have suggested that we as parents limit the use of technology to a couple of hours daily. Easier said than done. When some teenagers have their internet usage limited, some actually have anxiety attacks. Their phone is like an extension of their body and they can’t seem to comprehend the need to disconnect from it. They feel that if they are not paying attention to it continuously then they are missing out on something important. This has been labeled as Internet compulsion since teenagers are unable and unwilling to stay of any form of social media. This affects the same part of the brain that causes gambling, drinking & drug addiction. The insidiousness of an addiction to the internet is that you develop more of a mental dependence to everything online. Researchers have also linked compulsive Internet use to a range of mental health concerns including mental ill-health, low self-esteem, loneliness, depression, social phobia, and even suicidal thoughts. There has been a rise of teen suicide due to excessive use of the internet, what is written on social media and bullying. A number of studies have found associations between increased social media use and the aforementioned issues in addition to sleep problems & eating concerns and teenagers giving in to peer pressure.
The cyberbully starts a systematic abuse of the teen. The same way that the teen cannot see who is on the other side of the computer, the cyberbully does not see that what they are saying is being said to a real live person that may or may not be taking what they say as truth.
An analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in August found the suicide rate among teenage girls ages 15 to 19 hit a 40-year high in 2015. Between 2007 and 2015, the rates doubled among girls and rose by more than 30 percent among teen boys. There has also been an increase in bullies using social media to egg on their victim to committing suicide or carry out a harmful act.
Another problem that adolescents face is that they have no one to talk to because their parents are at work all the time to make ends meet, they are responsible for younger siblings, chores that their parents leave for them, they are part of a single parent family, etc. So, adolescents, without knowing who is on the other side of the computer, confide in someone who shows them that they have time for them. There are also some mental health apps available that teens confide in, but these apps give a cookie cutter diagnosis every teen with problem A can be helped by doing B. This is not always the case. Teens are individuals, with individual needs and problems. Parents must listen to what their children are saying and what they are saying by their behavior.