Technology and Teens

by Jeremy McCarthy
technology and teens

Now that teens add a staggering amount of screen time to the day, what are they losing?

Seven hours and twenty-two minutes. According to a recent census report by Common Sense Media, this is the amount of time that teens spend consuming digital content on screens (NOT counting school and homework), per day. This is a sobering statistic, and it is a number that is increasing rapidly every year. Technology use is also trending younger and younger with a majority of American kids now getting their first smartphone by the time they are 11 years old.

These statistics raise some interesting questions. First, what does all this technology use from such a young age do to the bodies and minds of the next generation? Postural issues, eyesight problems and an increasing risk of obesity are just a few of the physical challenges that can be expected. Perhaps more concerning are the psychological and emotional impacts of spending so much time online. Of course, there is a lot of educational and inspiring content to be found, but also plenty of content designed to manipulate our behavior, and mold us to the will of corporate advertisers and political action committees. We see increasing evidence of how adults are being manipulated by social media campaigns to move toward certain political viewpoints. How might impressionable young minds be even more deeply influenced?

An even bigger question is what are teens not doing now that they spend so much of their lives online? Some of the answers are comforting: teen drug use is down, teen drinking is down, teen pregnancy is down. The average teen spends time alone in their bedroom, staring at a screen, which keeps them away from the kinds of trouble that my generation got ourselves into.

We see increasing evidence of how adults are being manipulated by social media campaigns to move toward certain political viewpoints. How might impressionable young minds be even more deeply influenced?

But the allure of technology draws kids away from good lifestyle choices as well as bad. Teens might not be drinking, smoking and having sex as much as they used to. But they are also not playing, not reading for pleasure and not establishing real world relationships the way my generation did. Some could argue that this is not a bad thing. They still play, read and connect, they just do it in a new way. I shouldn’t force my archaic view of the world on a new generation that has moved on to (questionably) better platforms.

I can’t help but feel that something is being lost along the way. To the altar of technology we sacrifice physical movement, human touch and real human problem-solving, former necessities that today are being replaced by video games, porn and artificial intelligence. By outsourcing these aspects of humanity to technology, we become a weaker species. I would even argue that those old teenage experiments with sex, drugs and rock and roll, which sometimes led to unfortunate outcomes, were also an important rite of passage that helped my generation to wrestle with (and ultimately come to terms with) concepts like social harmony, individual responsibility and higher personal values.

These are questions that I think a lot about, because I have two young sons, now eight and nine years old, who stand at the precipice of this new digital landscape. Most of the kids in my older son’s class already have a smartphone. And in both of their classes, kids have significant access to technology, so conversations regularly turn to the most popular video games of the day (Fortnite, Minecraft, etc.) But in my family we take a much more restrictive view, focusing their screen time only to specific apps that we feel are safe and beneficial.

No matter what we do, technology will be a large part of our children’s future. But the technology of tomorrow will be easy for our kids to learn. We’d rather have them spend their youth learning how to be human. They will have more time for technology later. Or maybe they will discover other things along the way that are even more important.


JEREMY MCCARTHY is the group director of spa for the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. He is the author of The Psychology of Spas & Wellbeing and hosts a blog at psychologyofwellbeing.com.

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