Technology dependence with kids is a real issue and it is becoming more pervasive. We will look at factors that contribute to technology dependence, as well as signs and symptoms to watch closely. In addition, we will provide some strategies for actually preventing and managing technology dependence and take a look at how one private school is making a difference through their counseling services and other departments.
First, let’s face the facts. According to Gitnux, 90% of K-12 schools in the U.S. have at least one computer for every five students and 98% of American classrooms now have internet access.” This is not a bad thing as technology can enhance learning when used properly in schools. It is all about finding a good balance between online and offline activities and educational tools.
If you think about it, when kids are actively engaged in interactive activities both at home and at school, there is naturally a lower tendency to over-engage online or depend on technology. This is why finding the right private school for your kids is so important.
A case in point, Army and Navy Academy for grades 7-12 embraces technology as part of their focus on STEM subjects, but has very clear guidelines for computers, cell phones, tablets, social media, the internet and ChatGPT. Whether a student is in a classroom, the makerspace, student enrichment center, using aviation simulators, or out flying drones, students at the Academy learn how to manage screen time and work in teams while using various technologies..
At this private school, the faculty and staff are well-trained on the use of various technologies in academics, and outside the classroom. In addition, the student guidebook clearly outlines the honor code and technology use policies.
Factors Contributing to Teenage Dependence to Technology
When a habit turns into an over-dependency, it has an impact on all aspects of a teenager’s life. It can impact social and emotional development, academic achievement, character development, physical fitness, mental health, and at the extreme, even become a serious addiction.
There are many contributing factors, but the fact that technology is so accessible and required to complete many functions in today’s world, makes it difficult to operate as a “digital dinosaur.” Just the sheer number of devices and access to them starting at an early age is a key factor driving technology dependence.
Check out these devices below and think about your kids and the time they are spending on each device and/or platform. It will help you get a grasp of how technology can create dependence and also help you begin to formulate a plan.
- Everyone has a phone. Phones help parents stay in touch with their kids for safety and other purposes, but phones can give children and teens a false sense of social connection. Phones, by nature, force all of us to check voicemail messages, text messages, and emails. These are all distractions that take away from in-person experiences.
- Computers are required. For many academic functions, kids need computers to do research, write papers, and do homework assignments, but there is no need to be on the computer all the time. Although the digital world beckons, the computer is only a tool intended to improve our lives, not rule our lives.
- Tablets make tech mobile. Tablets make it easy for kids to be mobile and have a larger screen, but be watchful of how much time is spent on tablets. Many tablets show the amount of time spent and show comparisons for easy tracking. Teens can easily learn how to monitor this for themselves.
- Gaming Apps are highly popular. Applications (aka “apps”) for games and various forms of entertainment have opened up a whole new avenue for tech dependence. In fact, according to Pew Research, “97% of boys reported using some form of video games.” Video games and other entertainment sources can usurp energy better applied to outdoor activities, sports, clubs, social events, the arts, and other areas of interest.
- Social Media gets kids hooked. With so many social media platforms, it is no wonder social media is contributing to technology dependence. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), “adolescents who spend more than 3 hours per day on social media may be at heightened risk for mental health problems, particularly internalizing problems.”
Signs and Symptoms of Technology Dependence in Teenagers
It is never too early to begin discussions with your kids about technology use. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Safety – Do your kids seem distracted (e.g. walking, driving, using tools). Is your child or teenager in any sort of danger (e.g. in contact with strangers, being bullied by classmates, losing or gaining weight, in possession of any weapons)?
- Self-Care – Have you noticed any changes in habits related to nutrition, personal hygiene or physical fitness? Do you think this change is related in any way to an excessive use of technology?
- Mood Changes – Do your kids seek out or find relief when on devices or become hostile if asked to do so? If your teemager attends a boarding school, does the boarding school have a health center and counseling department?
- Mental Well-Being – Are you seeing any signs of depression, anxiety, agitation, hostility or irritability, in particular, when the internet goes down or when a device is unavailable? Any sleep issues noticed?
- Lack of Self-Discipline – Are your children or teengagers able to put devices away or reduce time spent on various devices without becoming angry? For example, does your teen show a lack of self-discipline about when and where a cell phone is inappropriate (e.g. dinner table, conversations, etc.)?
- Apathy Setting In – Are you seeing a growing level of apathy or lack of interest in offline activities? For example, is your teen involved in co-curricular activities, like clubs and organizations?
- Dishonest Behaviors – This is a tough one, but do you believe your kids are being honest about technology use? For instance, if you asked about time usage, would you hear the truth? Regarding schoolwork, has your teen ever cheated or been involved in plagiarism by using computers or mobile devices?
- Distractibility – Is there a fixation or preoccupation with video games, social media, internet “surfing” or other digital activities? Is there a lack of focus or inability to pay attention during offline activities?
- Lack of Social Life – When kids are spending more time on phones than actual social interactions, you know there is a problem. Being indoors, excessive time alone, and not going outdoors are some signs.
- Academics Suffering – Are you seeing any changes with homework habits, grades, or the ability to focus? While teachers may report issues to you, watch your kids at home and discuss academic performance openly and often.
10 Strategies for Preventing and Managing Technology Dependence
Here are some ways parents can prevent and manage technology dependence:
- Be a Role Model – Your habits model habits for your kids and other people around you. Monitor your time, use your phone when needed, use blue glasses, and don’t text or talk on devices while driving. Most importantly, model a balanced life.
- Inspire Various Forms of Fun – Get your kids engaged in areas that spark a passion for living and learning. For example, bring out that chess set, go for a walk, go on family vacations, and attend cultural activities in your city or town.
- Increase Activity – Set up a schedule to get your kids moving and spending time outdoors. Encourage participation in athletics, fitness, yoga, dance, hiking, biking and other forms of physical activity.
- Get Involved at School- Find out how technology is being used at your child’s school. Ask about school technology policies and procedures on campus and voice your concerns if you witness technology dependence issues in social groups. .
- Stimulate New Interests – Encourage your kids to try new things and step up to adventure and challenge to avoid too much screen time. Think of things your kids have never done and create a list of things to try.
- Set up Social Activities – For children, it is important to get your kids outdoors to meet neighbors, set up playdates, and enjoy places like local parks. For teens, ask them about co-curricular activities and support their engagement.
- Create a Plan – Work up a plan for your kids and discuss it together. For example, you could write down all the devices and purpose for each, daily screen time on each device and agreed upon safety methods.
- Monitor Notifications – Notifications are a real issue and there is no need to attend to every ding on cell phones. Show your kids that “the world can wait.” If they are busy and engaged in something, turn off notifications or keep them off entirely. This will help kids avoid looking at updates throughout the day.
- Consider Counseling – If you see signs of technology dependency on the internet, gaming sites, or social media, consider getting some help. Some counselors and psychologists are well versed in technology dependence issues and will be able to determine whether your kid just has some bad habits or something more concerning. Here is one resource to check.
- Find a Support Group – If you cannot find or afford a counselor and you believe your teenager has a more serious problem, there are community groups for technology dependency issues, as well as groups for depression and anxiety.
In conclusion, you now should have a better handle on the factors that contribute to technology dependence, how to look for signs and symptoms, and some strategies for preventing and managing your child or teenager’s technology dependence.
As one parent shared in alinked In article, it is worth a few hours of time to figure out the best ways to address technology with your kids.
Need to find a school that teaches responsible technology use? Learn more about how Army and Navy Academy, an all boys college prep school in Southern California actively helps students learn about the responsible use of technology. Contact us to ask questions or to schedule a campus tour.