Worldwide, more than one billion smartphones were sold in 2015 alone. To put this number in perspective, consider that fewer than one million smartphones were sold ten years earlier, in 2005. Between 2005 and 2015, an average male doubled his weekly online time from ten to twenty hours per week. A majority of smartphone users consult their devices hourly. A lesser subset update their status on social media platforms once every few minutes. When viewed through this filter, you might be tempted to rationalize that your child’s online and smartphone usage is merely “average”, but sharp upticks in internet and smartphone usage are evidence of digital addiction in tweens and teens. Recognizing the most common digital addictions is the first step toward rectifying them.
Currently, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the “DSM”) only includes internet gaming as a recognized digital addiction disorder. Health care professionals both in and outside of the United States use the DSM as an aide and authoritative guide to diagnose mental disorders. The DSM’s board is considering whether to include a broader digital addiction category as a legitimate and acknowledged disorder.
Teens and tweens are uniquely susceptible to compulsive use of social media. While downplaying the risks of peer group pressure, WebMD observes that a teen’s friends play a subtle role in shaping his or her decisions. Reflecting a common human trait that people are more likely to socialize with other people who have similar interests, WebMD notes that
[t]eens are more likely to hang out with other teens who do the same things.
If a teen’s friends are frequently updating their Facebook status, your teen will likely adopt the same behavior out of a “fear of missing out” (i.e. “FOMO”) of something that their friends are in on. A teen will tend to monitor the Twitter feeds from the same hundreds or thousands of connections that his friends monitor so that he can stay up to speed on whatever they may be talking about when he meets up with them. If his peer group shares every meal and trivial event on Instagram, he will internalize that behavior and do the same himself.
Psychologists theorize that constant internet access can foster a stimulus-reward mechanism that gives teens and tweens (as well as adults who are over-immersed in online activity) immediate positive feedback when they post something on a social media site and get a flurry of “likes” from friend and followers. A teen’s brain is at a less mature stage of development and is more amenable to being shaped by various external stimuli. Their dopamine reward system will be more likely to react to digital stimulation in a manner similar to a response to addictive drugs. The pleasure that a teen senses when his followers flood his social media postings with “likes” are caused by dopamine that is released in his brain. As his dopamine reward system is overstimulated by excess activity, the pleasure he senses from each subsequent dopamine release will be reduced and he will need greater amounts of stimulation to experience the same pleasure. If that stimulation is cut off, he can suffer both physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms, including depression, irritability, and sleep deprivation.
Your teen or tween might quickly get over any physical symptoms that they experience when if any digital connections are broken, but the psychological draw will remain for a long time. Their “FOMO” will stay at an all-time high for several months after they end a social media habit that might have supplanted regular daily activities. Their school performance might suffer and they might experience mood swings that go beyond typical teen moodiness.
The more involved your child is in sports, clubs, and other activities, the less time they’ll spend on their devices. A child who is active, engaged, and social won’t have as much time for their phones, tablets, and computers–and it will show. Encourage your child to choose activities that they enjoy to naturally reduce technology use and allow them to thrive.
Keeping solid rules for your child’s technology use is the best way to ensure a productive, well-rounded child or teen. As you develop solid guidelines, you’ll discover that your child spends less time on their devices and more time in the “real” world. To make this easier, I recommend using a trust-worthy parental control software. Netsanity has a suite of services – their Timeblocker scheduler, can be used regularly to ensure that kids enjoy other activities this summer and all year long. If your tweens have an Apple mobile devices, Netsanity has a great feature called Screenlock. It can be used on a regular basis to completely block them from using their mobile device for texting, or other activities whenever you feel that they need a healthy break, sleep, or to ensure they are focusing on other activities. They are releasing an Android version soon as well.