Understanding Problematic Technology Use & Warning Signs
Technology is ever present for today’s teens. They are digital natives who move easily from the computer to their smartphones to their handheld gaming devices. And while video gaming and social media tends to start out as fun activities that many people can do in a regulated, controlled way, for some teens, the tech addiction becomes so powerful that they will choose that technology over everything else. When teens begin being on social media or playing video games in a way that starts to negatively impact other parts of their life, this could be a sign of technology addiction.
Addiction and the Brain
Activities like video games and social media stimulate the reward centers of the brain, much in the same way that talking to a loved one or having a good meal activates the reward parts of the brain. This is also the same way that substances like alcohol and drugs stimulate the brain. Take the example of a good meal. When we are thinking about our meal; planning, making, and enjoying, our brain releases small doses of dopamine, the brain chemical known as the “happy hormone”.
When we experience that dopamine release, our brain wants us to repeat the action again, and get another dose. Now, when a person is playing a video game or on social media, they are constantly being bombarded with rewarding experiences (clinking coins, high scores, likes, and comments) that are releasing dopamine in the brain much the same way that drugs or alcohol does. It becomes more of a rewarding experience and feels good to the brain.
Warning Signs of Technology Use: Where Does A Line Get Crossed?
If the answer to any of the questions below is “yes”, your child may be crossing the line from typical teenage tech use to technology overuse or addiction:
- Is your child choosing technology over sleeping and leaving the house?
- Is your child experiencing heightened emotions after requests to limit tech use?
- Is their behavior impacting other areas of life? Is it affecting their social life? Is it affecting family life/family meals? Is it impacting their health and hygiene?
- Can this person not stop their tech use despite negative consequences? Has their tech use caused family struggles or interpersonal struggles with friends?
- Have they experienced a decrease in attending activities that they previously enjoyed? For example, if a person is active and enjoyed skateboarding and lifting weights and they’ve lost interest in those things and are singularly focused on internet use.
- Does your teen need more and more time on video gaming/social media/internet to get the same sense of release or good feeling they get from technology?
- Are they spending more time than they intended online or playing video games?
What Makes Technology So Appealing?
Some people enjoy online gaming or social media as a way to avoid uncomfortable thoughts or feelings. Teens who feel uncomfortable in social situations may gravitate towards online role playing games. Here, they can be whoever they wish they could be in real life. Stronger, braver, more confident. Typing messages versus talking in person gives them the time to really create their “perfect” response. It is a safe place to communicate and interact with others. Other teens who may be unhappy with aspects of their lives can post a cultivated gallery of photos on social media that makes it look as if their lives are perfect. Each “like” or “heart” enforces this feeling of acceptance.
Dangers of Technology Addiction
But those feelings of empowerment and acceptance through gaming and social media only exist on the screen. Teens aren’t making real connections online and depression may coincide with technology addiction. While they may play video games to avoid feeling depressed, they are not really solving the problem. Teens with technology addiction may begin to struggle with the activities of daily living. Their hygiene may start to decrease or their diet may become unbalanced. As more and more of the waking hours are devoted to a game, or social media, the less time they spend taking care of themselves. If your teen is spiraling towards depression, it may be time to seek professional help.
How does Equinox Address Tech Addiction?
Equinox is a residential treatment center exclusively designed for young men ages 14 – 18. Our students build accountability, respect, and a solution-oriented approach to solving their challenges with the help of our therapeutic approach. We focus on healthy connection, socializing, and communication. We educate and help students learn how to maintain and engage in healthy behaviors. Whether that’s art and creative expression or hanging out with friends, we try to help them find more healthy ways to create meaning in their lives. For more information about Equinox, please call (877) 279-8925.
Casey has been working with teens and young adults since 2009. He specializes in mindfulness-based approaches to therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, motivational interviewing, and family systems work.