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Beyond the Classroom

Technology: Is it good for our mental health?

Technology: Is it good for our mental health?

by Pamela Jenkins

2 years ago


In modern society, it is quite apparent that technology has made a major impact upon our lives. If you were born in the 1960’s or earlier, technology has transformed your life in a dramatic way. On the other hand, school aged children today are growing up in a world driven by technology. They have no other experience by which to compare, the technological world is all that they have ever known.

Despite all the ways in which technology makes our lives better, there is growing concern about technology and its impact on mental health and human socialization. For example, I read of a recent study that reported an overall decline of student grades stemming from the use of cell phones in the classroom.

As a psychologist, I want to address some underlying issues which go beyond our perceived benefits of technology. In my opinion, technology is simply a tool that can be used for our benefit or our detriment. The real issue has to do with our thinking and subsequent behavior. It is never the thing, it is what is driving the thing: human motivation.

Think of technology like electricity. When electricity is harnessed, it is of great benefit to us. On the other hand, when electricity is out of control, it can destroy us.

From a psychological perspective, there are 3 main concerns that I have with technology as it relates to mental health.

The first concern is regarding mental focus. Technology and social media have become such a great source of distraction away from face to face relationships. These relationships were the norm before we were conditioned to become more relationally distant. When we are constantly distracted, we are not taking the time to connect with self and others. If we are not connecting to ourselves, we are not growing on a personal level.

The second concern is regarding how we communicate. The addiction to technology has created a generation that is not equipped to effectively communicate. We are missing out on some crucial parts of the communication process. Those parts are called body language and tone of voice. It is well known that spoken words are only a small part of the communication process, only estimated at about 7%. When we text or email, we only have the written words to decipher and often we don’t do that correctly, hence the need for the hundreds of emojis and GIFs. This type of communication breeds mental confusion and misunderstanding, which often leads to conflict.

The third concern relates to a growing social fear and avoidance. Let’s face it, we are all human and experience doubt and fear from time to time. In my opinion, technology cultivates avoidance and if we hide behind technology, we tend to stay disconnected. Interestingly, I have observed an increase of today’s youth with a growing fear of speaking to others over the phone. This fear and avoidance can negatively impact their relationships and career opportunities later in life.

In addition to the above concerns, there is also the issue of electromagnetic fields (EMF) and their effect on the brain and body. At this time, we really don’t know to what extent that EMF’s can have on brain chemicals. Some believe that it could possibly be adding to the increase of anxiety and depression symptoms in today’s youth.

I believe that we, as a society, can agree that there is a concern with the distraction that technology can create in classrooms, meetings, public offices, vehicles, etc. Therefore, I believe that it is up to us personally to make sure that the use of cell phones and computers do not become a distraction or an addiction that affects how we feel mentally. Furthermore, as parents, we should monitor our children for signs of anxiety and/or depression as it may be influenced by their addiction to social media.

Currently, there are digital detox camps that are available to assist young people in managing tech boundaries and breaking mental habits that are nonproductive. Teaching young people how to be more mindful and aware of the present is proving to be helpful when dealing with mental health issues.

If your child is suffering from anxiety and/or depression and is addicted to social media, my first recommendation would be to have them fast from it for a day or two and see how they feel. Additionally, have them make a conscious effort to connect with others face to face or simply go outside and spend some time in nature.  If they suddenly feel better mentally and emotionally, then it could be an indication that technology is negatively impacting their mental health.

Addictions to technology and social media is not much different from the dynamics of other addictions. Addictions occur because there are underlying things that we may not want to face. Most often, the things we avoid have to do with intimacy in relationships. For some, it is much easier to have superficial relationships than to risk having a real one.

Isn’t it ironic that we have never been so connected in our world but at the same time, we have never been so disconnected to one another personally. Furthermore, we have never been so disconnected to ourselves. To know oneself is key to knowing others.

The question remains, is today’s technology good for our mental health? It depends on who you ask and what personal benefit it has to that individual. I would just ask you to reflect and examine its possible effects on your mental health as well as your children’s.

It may surprise you to know that almost half of the entire world’s population is without the use of internet and the technological devices that we take for granted every day. When it comes to personal relationships and what really makes people happy, we might want to ask ourselves the following question, are we really the fortunate ones?

 

5 comments


  • Children these days aren’t referred to as “digital natives” without reason. In fact, a report from Common Sense Media revealed that, in 2017, 42% of young children had their very own tablet—up from 7% in 2013 and less than 1% in 2011. At the same time, the average amount of time children spend with these handheld devices each day is skyrocketing, from 5 minutes a day in 2011, to 15 minutes a day in 2013, to 48 minutes a day in 2017.

    It’s no secret that technology has become an integral component of daily life. In particular, it’s become rare to see children and teens without a digital device in hand wherever we go: restaurants, waiting rooms, parks and more.

    However, the rapid pace by which toddlers, children, and teens are adopting technology into their daily lives has many questioning the effects it can have on their development. Although the negative impacts of technology frequently hit the news and are popular topics of conversation, technology is also being used more and more in educational settings, like the classroom. This leaves many of us wondering: is technology all bad?

    Here are a few positive and negative effects technology can have on children to consider:

    Positive:

    Enhances Learning

    Over the past few years, technology has become integrated into the classroom to enhance the learning experience for children. Technologies such as Smartboards, document cameras, Apple TVs, and even 3D printers are now incorporated into educational lessons to boost collaboration and engage students in the learning process. With increased collaboration in the classroom, teachers and students have increased creativity and project-based learning opportunities that make academic instruction more meaningful.

    In addition, at-home educational technologies have assisted toddler-aged children in learning numbers, letters, colors, and other foundational skills before they enter formal schooling. Mobile device apps like Avokiddo ABC Ride, Moose Math, and Metamorphabet have been recommended by parents to introduce math, the alphabet, and even the arts before kids enter school!

    Fosters Problem-Solving Skills

    Have you ever heard of the term “survival mode?” It’s a gameplay function in many kids’ video games where the player is tasked with staying alive as long as possible to outlast opponents. For example, in the popular video game Minecraft, players are dropped into new and different environments and must immediately build shelter and collect items like food, in order to survive and outlive their opponents. Not to mention, an entire day in Minecraft lasts just 10 minutes, so players must make good decisions quickly.

    With these types of technologies, kids must work independently to achieve a specific goal. In the process, they’re posed with different types of roadblocks and challenges, which they must learn to navigate and overcome. In turn, they’ll be encouraged to come up with their own problem-solving solutions when facing real-life issues such as homework trouble, disagreements with friends, or personal hardship, as well as technology-based obstacles.

    Develops Future Technological Leaders

    It’s common knowledge that our future lies in many of today’s emerging technologies. In the years to come, technical skills will be more important in the workplace, as well as the growing impact it’ll have on day-to-day life. One of the greatest benefits of exposing kids to technology is the fact that they’ll be well-prepared to jump into a pool of available, high-paying tech jobs.

    With large tech companies like Amazon consistently adding hundreds of new jobs around the country, introducing technology skills to children at an early age can prepare them for a career with a positive outlook. Tech jobs are here today. Tech jobs will be here tomorrow. Some of today’s tech will be tomorrow’s tech, and some of tomorrow’s tech will be completely brand new and something our world has never seen before. Who’s going to be best equipped to fill those positions? The ones who start learning now.

    Negative:

    Diminishes Relationships and Social Skills

    As children use mobile devices more and more, they’re more apt to be virtually connected with family and friends, rather than spending time together physically; they’re more likely to text, chat on social media, or connect through online gaming than actually meeting them in person.

    As Lisa Rai Mabry-Price, the associate director of school services from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), told The Philadelphia Inquirer, “Social communication skills are also in jeopardy due to tech overuse. These skills are developed and honed through daily interaction and include knowing how to take turns during a conversation, using facial expressions, changing the way you speak based on the listener—such as how you talk to a baby versus an adult—and making appropriate eye contact. Such personal interactions are limited as children passively view a screen.”

    Stimulates Health Issues

    The overuse of mobile devices can be harmful to children’s health, as the more they use mobile devices, the less physical activities they do. In addition, when children choose to play on their devices over physical activity, they often couple their activity with mindless snacking and other unhealthy habits.

    As children spend more time in front of those screens—most of the time on the couch—the less time they spend outside playing, running, and burning off calories. Over time, those habits can lead to significant weight gain and other associated health problems.

    Reduces Sleep Quality

    A study from JAMA Pediatrics found that children and adolescents who use media before bed were two times more likely to not get enough sleep at night. Even further, having access to a media device in their sleeping environment, even if the device was not being actively used near bedtime, was also associated with an inadequate amount of sleep.

    Children under the age of 13 typically require 11-14 hours of sleep, depending on their age. Sleep is immensely important for children, as it promotes growth, helps heart health, affects weight, increases attention span, and even boosts learning. However, when children don’t get the proper amount of sleep each night, these ever-important qualities can suffer.

    Like many of the things children love, like pizza or candy, technology can be great—but only in moderation. The problems associated with technology come with misuse and lack of attention around how much technology is “too much.” Be sure to regulate and limit your children’s technology use, and they’ll be able to reap its positive effects!

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