Using technology is a part of our teens’ everyday lives. From mobile devices for social media to school computers to gaming systems at home, there is rarely a time during the day when teens don’t have access to some form of technology. And in 2021 as the world continues to deal with a global pandemic, many teens are attending school virtually and are spending more time than ever in front of a screen. Technology can be a wonderful thing that connects the world and provides an endless sea of knowledge at our fingertips, but for many teens, technology use can spiral into something unhealthy. The truth is, as prevalent as technology is in our world, most teens can benefit from some structure and boundaries around their technology use.
Dangers of Technology Addiction
An unhealthy relationship with technology can lead to a variety of issues both physical and emotional. Spending an excessive amount of time using technology like social media and gaming has been linked to anxiety and depression in teens and as well as lower levels of physical activity. Understanding the dangers tied to the overuse of technology paints a clear picture of the importance of creating a healthy balance for tech use in your teen’s life.
There is evidence that intense social media use can correlate with an increase in anxiety and depression in teens. Adolescents on social media are prone to comparing themselves unfavorably to their peers and worry about missing out. Research has also shown that excessive gaming, spending two-thirds or more of their free time on games, can have a negative effect of teen’s mental health. This can also lead to anxiety, depression, or even substance use. There is even evidence that multitasking by using social media, texting, or watching tv while doing homework, can undermine cognitive functioning and decrease learning.
Many parents worry about the amount of time their teen spends on a screen, but how do you know what is normal and what is problematic? Here are some warning signs to be aware of:
- Loss of interest in other aspects of their lives. Does your previously enthusiastic teen seem to have lost interest in their favorite hobbies or activities? Have you noticed that they continuously choose interacting on their phone or tablet over meeting face to face with friends? Are they withdrawing from the real world in favor of text messages and social media?
- Inability to self regulate. Is your teen constantly reaching for their phone during meal time, bed time, or any free time? Do they feel that they have to respond to every notification bell as soon as it sounds? Are they losing sleep due to scrolling through their phone at night, but are unable to put it away? This inability to regulate their technology use could mean that they are developing unhealthy habits with their devices.
- Fixation on technology. Do all of their conversations revolve around what they saw on Instagram yesterday or what new level they’ve achieved on their favorite game? When all of their conversations begin to revolve around talking about screen time, it may mean that they are becoming more disconnected from the real world.
- Problematic behavior. What happens when you limit your teen’s screen time? Is there yelling or even physical outbursts? If your teen views even short amounts of time away from their device as a punishment, it could be because they have formed some unhealthy attachments to their technology.
Creating a Healthy Balance for Your Teen
If you’re concerned about your teen’s screen time or technology use, it is best to address the issue as soon as possible. Setting up healthier habits can help them create a better relationship with their technology while keeping them connected to the real world around them.
Create Boundaries: Setting boundaries and creating a schedule around technology use is the first step in creating a healthy balance for your teen. When teens have access to their devices at all hours of the day, the temptation to use them may be too great for them to resist. It is important to schedule some tech-free time in your teen’s routine. For example, if you know that your teen is prone to spending late nights scrolling through social media, which leads them to be exhausted the next time, consider making a rule that there are no phones in the bedroom after 11pm. You can keep the charging cords in the living room and their phone can charge overnight while your teen recharges as well.
Turn Off Notifications: Many teens may feel triggered by the sounds of their notifications or the buzz of their phones. As soon as they hear those sounds, the automatically reach for their phone. There is even terminology: “Phantom Vibration Syndrome” where detecting a vibrating phone has become a habit, and the slightest muscle twitch or feeling of clothing moving could be wrongly interpreted as phone vibration. By setting times when your teen turns off their notifications, you can help them avoid the stimulus of those sounds and vibrations which can help them focus on one thing at a time.
Set a Good Example: It can be challenging to tell your teen that they need to spend less time on their devices when we are equally glued to our phones. Make sure that there is time in the day when the entire family unplugs. This can be as simple as turning off phones during dinner time.
Get Involved: Show your teen what healthy time with technology looks like by getting involved in their tech experiences. If they’re all about Minecraft, let them teach you how to use the game. You will be able to vet the content they are accessing as well as bonding through a shared experience.
Get Out in the Real World Together: It may seem like your teen would rather spend the day gaming than with their parents, but planning outings (without technology) can be beneficial for the entire family. Creating real world memories can help you bond with your teen while also reminding them of the things they enjoy without their phone screen.
Finding Additional Help. For some teens, setting boundaries at home may not be enough to help curb their impulses around technology. In these cases, a residential treatment program may be able to help your teen create a healthier relationship with their phones or computers.
A Residential Treatment Program for Teens
In a residential treatment program like Red Mountain Colorado, teens will work with clinical professionals, receive academic guidance, and learn new living skills in a supportive environment. While attending residential treatment, students are removed from the habits and distractions of their home life. Red Mountain Colorado is unique in that students also learn mindfulness and meditation techniques that can aid them in learning to regulate their technology use.
Meditation and mindfulness are strategies used to help struggling teens become more aware of their emotions, gain insight into their unhealthy coping mechanisms, and learn to live in the present while healing from their past. Students who are struggling with issues like anxiety or depression linked to their technology use may find that these practices help them stay present and in control of their emotions. Meditation therapy for teens is the practice of quietly noticing our thoughts and feelings, and remaining aware and open to the present moment. Mindfulness is the ability to do so while engaged in an activity or interacting with others. Teens who practice mindfulness can learn to acknowledge when those impulses around technology arise without feeling controlled by those impulses.
Teens with unhealthy technology use often find themselves isolated and disconnected from their peers. Students enrolled at Red Mountain Colorado may find adventure therapy useful for building healthier relationships in the real world. Adventure therapy is a form of therapeutic intervention that utilizes experiential activities involving perceived risk and that are both physically and emotionally challenging. These adventure activities are used to reignite old passions and spark new ones. Adventure therapy can help teens build social skills like communication, trust, and resiliency. By pairing adventure therapy with traditional therapy practices, students can process these adventure therapy sessions and help them discover ways they can utilize these experiences in productive ways outside of treatment.
Red Mountain Colorado Can Help
Red Mountain Colorado was founded to help struggling teens work through behavioral and emotional challenges. We specialize in the treatment of trauma-related mental health challenges. Throughout programming, we empower teens to build healthy coping skills and habits that they can use to work through the challenges they face.
When a teen struggles with emotional and behavioral issues like depression or anxiety and has at least one other mental health condition present, we call this a dual diagnosis disorder (also known as a co-occurring condition). Our program is structured to treat issues like trauma and depression as well as dual diagnosis disorders. When your teen arrives at our treatment facility, our staff will assess if there are any underlying mental health symptoms. With these learnings, we take an integrated approach to create a path to psychosocial wellness. For more information please call (970) 316-7594.