Group of teens sitting outside using cell phones and not talking to each other

Navigating Technology with Teenagers

It is already that time of year again, when school is starting up and life is returning to the normal routine.

During the teenage years the brain is undergoing some of the most rigorous adjustments it will undergo before it reaches the full functionality of an adult brain. This, combined with raging hormones and the stress of school, friends, and extracurriculars makes being a teenager a difficult task. In recent years however, a new factor has been added to the mix: technology.

With technology comes an entirely new dimension to navigate. It is a challenge that no other generation has had to face before. The world of Instagram and Snapchat has invaded the lives of these children. The added stress of whether or not a friend has replied to a text, or the number of likes attained from posting a photo has grown to be of such importance that self-esteem has grown to be directly linked to it.

The level of self-esteem or lack thereof affects the health of a person, as well as every area of his or her life. Self-esteem is already a looming issue among adolescents. Carl E. Pickhardt explains that there are two times in our lives when our self-esteem tends to drop naturally. The first of these times is age 9-13, when we are leaving early childhood and trying to define ourselves, and the other time is age 18-23 when we are faced with the overwhelming addition of complete independence.

The added level of stress from technology heightens the potential for low self-esteem even more. It is often difficult to tell however, because as a whole students seem to have their lives organized much more as a result of advances in technology. Katherine Xue of Harvard Magazine writes,

The external polish often hides deep-seated anxiety, outwardly expressed as a need for approval.

All social media outlets are based around the idea of recognition. Kids post things to get approval and feel good about themselves, which in itself is not a bad thing. The basic idea of the technology is good. It is a great way to connect with people you might not get to see very often otherwise. The danger is when kids measure their importance or relevance based on the number of likes, shares, or favorites they get. Technology already elevates stress levels, and when you factor in the rapid development of the brain, the levels soar through the roof.

There are positives and negatives to technology for teens, so before discussing any further, let us take a moment to reflect on both sides of the spectrum.

Benefits of Technology

  • Organizational skills
  • Search efficiency
  • Easier to reach out to people
  • Better communication
  • Staying connected

Negative Effects of Technology

  • Kids have developed more relationships, but often these tend to be shallow-they lack the emotional depth and genuine involvement that face to face relationships have
  • Teenagers are often so engrossed in their phones that they do not take the time to look up and observe the natural beauty all around them
  • Increased anxiety
  • Decreased sense of worth
  • No time alone

The real challenge is finding a good balance for the use of these technological advances. There are both positives and negatives to these technological advances and finding this balance can be hard, especially when you are a teenager and your brain is going through its biggest stage of development.

For pediatricians, teenagers can be difficult to understand or communicate with, but that does not mean they are any less important. Keeping updated with the most recent technological advances and understanding the world in which they are living is key in assisting these kids. So what are the best ways to talk to teenagers about their use of technology? An article from apa.org reads,

Like it or not, technology is an important part of our modern world. It won’t help your child if you set overly restrictive limits or send the message that technology is something to fear. Instead, focus on teaching healthy habits that will stay with your child for a lifetime.

Healthy habits include things like detaching from technology at bedtime, staying away from certain websites, and filtering what they post online. Kids do not know this, but your profile could decide things like whether or not you get a job you want. Social media background checks are a regular thing, and if you have a lot of lewd pictures and comments on your page, you most likely will not get the job you are applying for.

The most important thing for teenagers is that they act the same way online as they do in real life, because that can be a real problem for kids. Often they say things online that they would never say to someone’s face. Cyberbullying is a serious issue, and unique to this generation. It can be a difficult topic to deal with since it all happens in the cloud. There are plenty of great resources out there to use though. For example, helpguide.org is a great resource. Teenagers are all struggling with different issues, and most just want to feel like they are heard and matter.

Checking in with them about their social life is important, and should be a routine part of an appointment. Ask how they are doing in different social areas, including technology. Do not push them to say anything, but you will find that a lot of teenagers will be happy they are asked. Remember that it is not only a challenging world for you to navigate, but it is challenging for them as well. The world is a difficult place to navigate, but it is always easier together, so work to make teenage patients feel like they are not alone.