New research shows that teens can become addicted to social media and gaming. The research establishes that technology affects the same part of the brain that is stimulated by drugs, alcohol or sex. With technology in the palm of your hand, it’s impossible to quit completely, so many are wondering how much is too much? Limiting exposure and establishing tech-free time is imperative for growing teens and young adults.
The prefrontal cortex (area behind the forehead) of the brain isn’t fully formed until around the age of 24-28. This part of the brain is responsible for decision making, risk assessment, and impulse control. Jessica Wong, a certified prevention specialist at Hazelden Betty Ford, suggests that kids and people who engage in too much technology usage demonstrate similar issues related to drug use. Additionally, research shows teens and young adults exhibit signs of withdrawal when technology is taken away.
The issue is that without a fully formed prefrontal cortex, teens may not always make safe reliable decisions on social media and with friends. Because technology is everywhere and in everyone’s daily lives, quitting may not be an option. There’s no way to completely cut your teen off from technology, as it’s part of their schooling and local environment. While eliminating technology altogether is unrealistic, Wong suggests taking small steps to find a healthy balance of screen time.
For starters, limit technology usage to certain times of the day. There is no need for your child to sleep with a phone or computer in their room. This policy is likely easier to enforce from day one, when your child gets their first phone. Once they reach their teenage years, it may be hard to introduce this rule, so plan ahead, if at all possible. Work on establishing a set time period, for example, no phones from 12 a.m. to 8 a.m. This way, the teen (and their friends) will recognize the consistency of no contact after midnight.
Next, Wong contends that parents should have the password to their children’s phones. She also suggests parents should have the same or better model phone, so they are able to access and intervene with technology usage. It’s not necessary supervise daily usage, but having the password and knowledge to access the child’s phone will allow parents to intermittently monitor behaviors when appropriate.
The takeaway: parents need to stay invested and hands-on with their children’s use of technology. Develop and enforce tech-free time. It may be a battle, but it’s worth it in the long run. Consistency is key to long-term success.