For many years, we have been circling around this big question: Does technology affect teens? If so, in what ways? And, is technology more harmful or helpful to them?
It’s safe to say that most teens are exposed to technology most of the day. It’s also safe to say that yes, technology does have both positive and negative effects on them. The better question we should be asking is this: How do we teach teens to engage with technology positively despite its perceived adverse effects?
First, let’s explore some of the most widely accepted negative effects of technology.
Heightened Stress, Virtual Communication, and External Approval
The effects of violence in video games are at the top of many parents’ concerns. Almost every video game marketed to teens focuses on violence of some kind. Studies have shown that prolonged exposure to violence creates heightened levels of stress. This stress response can last long after the video game has been shut off. And, the concern about violence will continue to increase with advances in video game graphics and virtual reality. (Looking for a less violent option? Consider the latest Spider-Man introduced at E3.)
Technology also affects the way teens communicate with their peers, with adults, and with society. Social media and messaging have made it possible for teens to have entire conversations without any actual human contact. Virtual communication removes cues like body language, tone, and facial expressions. When communicating online, there’s no immediate consequence from difficult conversations or saying something that might be offensive. Some suggest that lack of experience with these social cues can cause lack of empathy.
Even without this physical interaction, teens continue to be overly concerned with external approval. The currency of social media are likes, followers, subscribers, and shares. Getting that external approval means presenting a better, happier, thinner, prettier image, which can add to self-esteem issues and unrealistic ideals that teens are already dealing with in school.
Technology isn’t all bad all the time, though. As scientists have had more time to study the effects of technology on teens, they have discovered that different technologies, apps, and devices have unique, positive effects as well.
Creative Outlet, Self-Sufficiency, and a Voice
While prolonged exposure to violence in video games can have a negative effect on a teenager’s stress level, some types of games are beneficial to teens. Sandbox games like Minecraft and LEGO Worlds offer an outlet for creativity. Games like Bloxels that teach teens how to code and create their own video games stimulate teens’ imaginations.
Being able to search for answers about anything on any topic helps teens become more and more self-sufficient. If they have a question about anything, they are only a Google search away from finding all the answers they could need. If they become interested in a topic, they can find a plethora of resources to help them learn more. And, not having to remember every detail of every subject might even free up space in teens’ brains for more “higher order processing such as contemplation, critical thinking, and problem-solving.” It isn’t important anymore to know or remember everything. It’s more important to know where to find the answer.
Social media might add to self-esteem issues, but it also gives teens a voice. It gives teens an outlet to share their thoughts, lives, and passions with the world. Any tool that helps teens practice writing and helps them put their thoughts into words should be encouraged.
So, back to the bigger question: How do we teach teens to engage with technology in a positive way despite its perceived negative effects?
Parents have many obvious concerns about technology. The knee-jerk reaction might be to limit technology or significantly monitor teen’s use of technology. However, parents would do more for teens to teach them how to use technology responsibly.
Parents can encourage teens to practice using technology for specific purposes, like finding an answer to a specific question or using a sandbox game to explore creativity. Parents can also encourage more discussions about the technology their children are using. They can ask their teen to teach them how to play a game or how to use certain social media. Parents can also become involved in the subjects their children are learning about online. By always leading technology back to connection and discussion, parents can help build teen’s self-esteem and decrease emphasis on external approval.
“With great power comes great responsibility.” – Ben Parker, Spider-Man
From the beginning of time technology has been disruptive. It sidesteps middlemen and puts more and more power into the hands of the people. The biggest effect that technology has on teens is that it gives them more power to control their lives. Technology gives teens the ability to control their interactions with peers and adults. More importantly, it gives them more options for learning about their world, and the world around them, during a time when they are most interested in finding their unique voice.
Technology will always be a part of teenagers’ lives. As we continue to move forward, technology will move forward as well. There’s no question that technology affects teenagers. And, we are still discovering the specific ways in which technology hurts and helps them. However, the positive effects of technology will always outweigh the negative ones if we (the parents) focus more on engaging with our teens about technology, rather than trying to limit it all together.
Sara Woodard-Ortiz, owner of The HeartFull Journey, is an ally for heartbroken moms who are going through separation and divorce. Her goal is to help moms love themselves during and after divorce as a way to build a foundation to attract a new, satisfying relationship. Sara lives in Danville, IL with her daughter, Olivia, and their cats, Bianca and Katniss. When Sara is not working on her business, you can find her playing Minecraft or drinking coffee at a local cafè.