Technology is an amazing part of our world!
Anything we want can be accessed at anytime from anywhere in the world.
We can easily shop online and have items delivered to our doorstep.
Amazon is my best friend.
We use apps to help us eat right and stay active.
I only know about this because my friends use these apps.
Through text or video chat, we maintain relationships with those we love—those who live close and those who live halfway around the world.
I love how I can stay connected to my military sons no matter where they are in the world!
Games, movies, music, and more are instantly available on all our devices.
However, if we are so integrated with technology throughout our daily lives, how do we know when it’s too much—when have we become too immersed in the world of technology?
This is a question many parents ask and they often struggle to find the best answer.
While there is no clear-cut answer and many variables to consider, there are signs in our kid’s behaviors that may indicate they’re experiencing technology overload.
Here are a few signs that may indicate it’s time to unplug.
This is an interesting side effect of technology use that often goes unrecognized.
Whether kids are gaming or on social media, continuous use stimulates the production of dopamine in their brain—a neurotransmitter that’s created when doing something rewarding and makes them feel good. With prolonged technology use and elevated levels of dopamine surging through their brain, kids become hooked on technology, in many ways identical to the way addicts become hooked on their drug of choice.
Although their behavior and dopamine levels are producing an excessively high arousal, it is also impacting their memory function and ability to relate to others. They are amped up, but exhausted.
Sleep deprivation may also contribute to a child’s irritability if they have screen time before bed. The light from electronic devices is like daylight—it tells the brain to stay awake by suppressing melatonin: a natural hormone that tells the brain when it’s time to sleep.
Screen time before bed can also throw off a kid’s body clock, creating an imbalance in their sleep patterns and not allowing them to experience deep, restful sleep.
Here’s a common sight: a family sitting at a table together in a restaurant, no one engaging in conversation, but each one on their phone.
This behavior actually has a name—it’s called phubbing: the practice of ignoring one's companion or companions in order to pay attention to one's phone or other mobile device. Phubbing—the blend of the words phone and snubbing—was coined in 2012 by an Australian advertising agency as part of a marketing campaign.
Never before have we lived in a world that provides so much opportunity for connection through technology, yet people are experiencing loneliness, depression, and isolation at a greater frequency. How is this possible?
In many ways, technology has allowed us to live our lives based on the philosophy of “a mile wide but an inch deep.” What do I mean by this?
We’re connected to thousands of people on social media, but we don’t really know them.
We post our best photos and embellish our online persona, creating the profile we want people to see.
We play video games with our online friends, but may not really know them.
We create invincible online characters that look, act, and engage with others ways we would never do in real life.
Are you noticing a pattern?
We have connection with people through an online world, but are we creating relationship? As parents, are we modeling healthy relationship to our kids? Are we making an effort to engage in life on a personal level through face-to-face interaction? Are we taking the time to invest in others’ lives in a deep and meaningful way?
Our kids are more likely to recognize the value of healthy, intentional, face-to-face relationships when we model this for them. They need to learn how to engage in life and others in a personal way, without technology.
Since so many of our kids don’t know a world without technology, it’s difficult to help them understand the negative effects it has on their self-perception.
While Instagram, SnapChat, and Facebook allow for continuous connection to others, they also have a tendency to create a comparison mindset. Often without their awareness, many kids end up comparing their life, looks, and relationships to those they see online. They don’t realize that others are posting their best (and photoshopped) version of themselves.
This comparison mindset contributes to increased feelings of worthlessness, depression, and loneliness. There is growing concern about the way technology is affecting a child’s emotional health, potentially increasing their levels of fear, anxiety, and depression.
Living in an online world also contributes to a lack of empathy among children. Empathy—our ability to feel the experiences of others as our own—is learned behavior. It’s learned through modeling and face-to-face interaction.
For many children, when they immerse themselves in the world of technology, they can become very self-focused—unable to recognize their own thoughts and feelings, let alone the thoughts and feelings of others. This contributes to a breakdown in their communication, compassion, and sensitivity toward others.
For example, let’s say a kid is communicating through text or online gaming with a friend. Unintentionally, a sarcastic text is sent (sarcasm never lands well in texts) or something is said during friendly gaming banter and it stalls all communication. Someone’s feelings are hurt, but because the communication is through technology and they cannot see the facial expression of their friend, the need to repair the relationship goes unaddressed.
People can even be purposefully cruel online—in a way, they don't see others online as "real."
Technology has the potential to limit a child’s social skills and their ability to navigate relationships.
How to Minimize Technology Overload
If you’ve noticed your child may be experiencing technology overload, here are a few suggestions that might help.
Make time for face-to-face interaction. So many of our basic communication skills are developed through reciprocal interaction—the back-and-forth coordination of our verbal and non verbal communication learned through face-to-face interaction.
This is where children not only learn about human emotion—identifying their emotions and the emotions of others—but also the appropriate response to another's emotions. This is how children learn empathy.
As parents, it’s important that we intentionally create opportunity for face-to-face interaction with our kids. Whether it’s taking time before school, after school, before bed time, or anytime in between, we need to set aside time to give our kids our full attention.
We all need to work on this.
I’m guilty of trying to talk to my kid and reading emails at the same time. As my kid attempts to share his life with me, I respond with, “Un-huh...uh-huh...uh-hun,” but I’m not really hearing a word he’s saying. Worst approach ever!
If we want to create relationship with our kids, we have to be intentional: get off the phone, close our computer, and focus on our kids.
Create device-free zones. This is a great way to build intentional communication with our kids. Whether we decide to make the dinner table, the bedrooms, or the drive to and from school device-free zones, we are creating opportunity for communication with our kids.
Develop a Family Internet Use Plan. Technology is not evil. It is an integral part of our world and it’s not going away. The best approach to navigating our digital world is by creating healthy online behaviors for ourselves and our family.
A Family Internet Use Plan allows us to create a personal or family plan that promotes health around online behaviors.
If we want to model digital health to our kids, we have to be digitally healthy ourselves—we can’t have a better relationship with social media, gaming, and online relationships than we have with face-to-face relationships.
If you want to minimize technology overload or strengthen your digital health, choose one healthy suggestion to work on with your kids this week. Leave a comment and let us know how it goes!
It’s never too late to pursue digital health for ourselves and our family.
1. Dunckley, V. (2015). Screentime Is Making Kids Moody, Crazy, and Lazy. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mental-wealth/201508/screentime-is-making-kids-moody-crazy-and-lazy
2. Hoge, E., Dickham, D., & Cantor, J. (2017). Digital Media, Anxiety, and Depression in Children. PEDIATRICS, 140(s2). November.
3. Goleman, D. (2005). Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. New York, NY: Bantam Books.
Heather is the Content Manager and Neuroscience Professional on staff at Pure Desire. She has a Bachelor's in Psychology and a Master's Degree in Criminal Behavior. Heather worked several years as a college professor prior to joining Pure Desire. She is an integral part of our speaking team and is the co-author of Digital Natives: Raising an Online Generation.