Goodbye Facebook, Hello Trouble: Dealing with Child Technology Addiction
What are the risks?
Going on a party binge often involves no thinking – it just happens, without regulation or awareness. Teens are likely susceptible to the same negative effects of alcohol and drugs – especially where they are unable to make safe choices.
But there’s more: when the brain is conditioned with technology, it becomes much easier to manipulate and train it. Studies have shown that a teenager’s moods and behavior can be altered, modified and manipulated depending on the context around them. Behavioral and mood disorders can be triggered by the number of screens teenagers have in their lives, which not only affects them, but their friends.
And that, of course, leads to risk. A student may be able to understand the risks, but not the odds. These factors explain why many teens have risky behaviors:
“They are largely preventable if the factors are taken into account. – Dr. Terrance Ferrell
Researchers at Western University in Ontario, Canada recently examined brain activity and online behavior on 16-year-olds, and came to a conclusion that may explain why teens are so impulsive – and why young people like to have access to social media.
They found that the more time spent online, the more likely their brains were to show a reaction to the complexity of the world around them. And the more complex the world got, the more dopamine production was triggered.
What happens to the brain when dopamine is released? It makes us more likely to do things, says Dr. Terrance Ferrell, senior scientist in cognitive neuroeconomics at Western’s Brain and Mind Institute and co-author of the study. He explains: “It is the same system that controls our driving, that the same system that overrides a blackout, or that makes you jump up and down when you are watching a soccer game.”
Teenagers, the study says, must “take back their self-control and regain their brain’s youthful state.” The study researchers recommend that the best way to help a child with impulsivity is to “educate the parents, improve the quality of the experience in which they are exposed and interrupt the processing of this information by external stimuli.”
Ferrell and others have seen how strong the strong attachment to technology is, says Ferrell.
“Teenagers will binge drink or do drugs or, to a lesser extent, engage in risky behavior because a lot of them look at something like their phone or Facebook as a way of controlling the world around them,” he said. “When they’re lacking in the ability to manage their lives, they’re going to use this technology as a tool to control their day-to-day life and the world around them.”
Teens also become compulsively committed, Ferrell says. “It really is almost like an addiction, and that does indicate it’s a risk to their behavior because they’re not using it to have fun, but using it as a social control mechanism.”
Ferrell and others have also noticed Facebook addiction in teenagers. They are able to turn to computers when they want a break from responsibilities, to blow off steam. If there is a war in a small village somewhere, for example, they might use Facebook to stay informed or connect with friends back home.
It’s hard to overcome an addiction, according to Ferrell. In studies, teenagers who have social media at home are much more likely to have similar behavioral and mood problems than teens who are at least partially disconnected from their devices. Ferrell urges social media owners to step up and do their part.
“Expecting parents and society to be able to control something as large as a kid’s Facebook is highly unrealistic,” Ferrell says. “Your job is to provide your kids with lots of healthy relationship options. ”
By Denise Herrmann, Ph.D.
MindShift Communications, Inc.