While technology is certainly not all bad, its overuse can pose certain key risks, especially to teens.
Technology can give students a false sense of relational security as they communicate with unseen individuals around the world. The speed with which technology moves makes everything a teen might be looking for available within seconds, which encourages an unhealthy desire for instant gratification. A slow internet connection or “unplugging” can promote irritability and anxiety for a teen otherwise used to constant connection through technology.
Sleep disorders can develop as teens stay up all night to play with technology, and as a result, academic, athletic, and social performance can suffer. Weight gain and other complications of a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle, such as cardiovascular disease, may result. In-person social skills may deteriorate.
Even as healthy teens are challenged by increasing life responsibilities, hormonal changes, and the stress of new social and academic worlds like dating and applying to college, these life transitions become even harder for those wholly absorbed in technology.
Within a technology-addicted individual, the mind becomes increasingly unable to distinguish between the lived and the alternate realities that produce instant stimulation, pleasure, and reward. As such, the extreme use of technology can disrupt normal patterns of mood and socialization in teens. Dependency upon social media, gaming, or other platforms to function can become the new and unhealthy “normal.”
Technology addiction and teen substance use. Researchers have found evidence that people who overuse technology may develop similar brain chemistry and neural patterning to those who are addicted to substances.2
Another concern is that those who are addicted to technology are actually more likely to also use substances than their peers with healthier relationships to tech, providing the insight that technology addiction may be a risk factor for alcohol and other drug addiction.
One preliminary study found that a group of teens who “hyper-texted” were 40% more likely to have used cigarettes and twice as likely to have used alcohol than students who were less frequent users of technology. This same research noted that those who spent more hours per school day than peers on social networking sites were at higher risk for depression and suicide.3
It stands to reason then, that if we can prevent technology addiction, we may also be able to prevent other risky behavior and dangerous consequences to teens.
Technology and the brain. Studies have shown that brain scans of young people with internet addiction disorder (IAD) are similar to those of people with substance addictions to alcohol, cocaine, and cannabis.4
Damage to brain systems connecting emotional processing, attention, and decision-making are affected in both substance addicts and technology addicts. This discovery shows that being hooked on a tech behavior can, in some ways, be as physically damaging as an addiction to alcohol and other drug use
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