Screen time and teens: How you can help

Is your teen spending too much time using technology? If you worry about your teen’s use of devices, you are not alone. A report by Common Sense Media indicates half of all young people feel they are addicted to their devices. Almost 60 percent of adults think their kids are addicted too, and a third of parents and teens say that they argue daily about screen time.

With today’s teenagers never knowing a world without the Internet, many struggle to use technology in a way that is healthy. “Our society is moving so quickly with technology that kids now have access to a very large social world that they may not have the maturity to navigate,” explains Ken DeBlock, Shelterwood Academy’s Director of Substance Abuse and Recovery. Learn more about technology addiction, why there is such a rise in the “screen time” challenge and how you can help your teen.

Technology addiction, defined

Ken characterizes addiction as someone engaging in behavior that is repetitive, and the person has lost control over that repetitive behavior. “So a teen might say, ‘I am just going to play games for one hour today,’ and then end up playing five hours every day of the week,” he explains. “It is okay to have a routine, but when you try to change that routine and find yourself unable to do so, that trends more toward an addiction than a routine.”

Technology addiction includes a wide range of behaviors and devices — video games, social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, television and video streaming and so much more. “We only have so many resources — including time, money and energy — and as something becomes addictive in your life, you put more time, money and energy into that thing,” Ken says. “For example, a teen may have been a straight A student and is now receiving Ds because they do not have the time or energy to invest in their schoolwork anymore.”

Why is technology addiction a growing problem for teens?

Not only are video games and online platforms marketed well to teens, Ken points to how they have evolved. Video games used to be designed around completing levels to win the game — think about games like Mario Cart — with the option to pause, save the game and come back to it another day.

“Over time, games and platforms have become more about rewards based on length of time you play. You build an online profile or online world, and your character gains access to bigger and better things based on how long you play . . . it is a cycle: the more someone plays or participates, the more they earn.”

Another feature in today’s games and social platforms is the focus on community. “It is a fundamental principle that people need connection,” Ken says. “Yet these devices provide a very different type of connection. Connection to other people is not through personal experiences, but through this online resource. This makes it easier for teens to project who they want to be and how they want to feel. There are many more opportunities to be inauthentic. These platforms center on a controlled environment that is easier to dictate than actual life.”

Another contributing factor to the rise of technology addiction is how ubiquitous technology is today. “This technology is just so prevalent in society. You can’t walk down the street and not see someone on their cell phone,” Ken says. “We have been constantly conditioned to look at these phones that we all carry in our pockets. Even if you take a day to turn off your own phone, you still hear other people’s chimes and buzzers. Even during class, if a teen has a phone in their pocket, the buzzer goes off. This is classic conditioning.”

How to tell if your teen is addicted — and how to help

One key sign that your teen may have an unhealthy relationship with technology is withdrawal from people and activities that used to bring joy. “Your teen does not hang out with friends anymore, does not go to church anymore, no longer enjoys extracurricular activities,” Ken says.

“When you talk about limiting technology and social media, how does your teen respond? Are they open to the conversation, or do they respond in a way that is argumentative?”

Another sign your teen may be struggling is secrecy surrounding technology use. It is important to differentiate privacy and secrecy, Ken says. “Privacy is healthy as a teenager grows up and matures, but secrecy is different. Do they hide their technology use from you?”

Helping your teen starts with healthy communication. Share your concerns openly, but with lots of empathy. “We’ve all fallen into the technology trap at some point. Your teen is not alone in this.” Guide your teen in setting up a structured plan for technology use, including a break from technology before bed to ensure healthy sleep. Make sure your teen has pathways for healthy recreational activities as well. Encourage your teen to participate in extracurricular activities and facilitate those options at home as well.

At Shelterwood, teens learn healthy social skills with no cell phones allowed on campus. They practice living a healthy lifestyle, including classes, counseling and fun technology-free activities. “We allow teens to practice healthy recreation with opportunities to swim in the pool, go for hikes, play in our soccer and basketball leagues and just enjoy being in community with others.”

Are you worried about your teen’s use of technology and the Internet? Take the first step toward restoration for your teen. Reach out to our admissions team today: 866.585.8939.