Effects of Technology on Mental Health

In our ever-changing world, the use of technology is continuously expanding. It influences every area of our lives, from our ability to communicate with loved ones to accessing information at our fingertips. Unfortunately, we have also seen a number of negative effects of technology on mental health as well. 

While technology has opened up links for individuals to readily access information, help, and support, there are significant risks associated with its increased usage. Specifically, screen time and social media use among kids and teens have been linked with an increased prevalence of mental health concerns. Research has indicated that internet addiction, particularly among younger demographics such as teenagers, is becoming a widespread issue. It has been linked to depression, low self-esteem, and loneliness – symptoms that often lead to diagnosable mental illnesses and worsening issues that were already present. The passive use of social media sites (such as Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook) is specifically linked to increased levels of depression. Overall, in terms of the relationship between screen use and both physical and mental health outcomes, there have been several studies that suggest higher levels of screen use in children and adolescents is associated with reduced physical activity, increased risk of depression, and lower well-being.

Prevalence 

While not all mental health concerns among young people can be linked to technology, it is important to recognize the vast amount of children who are impacted by these issues. Research finds that 1 in every 5 children between the ages 13-18 have, or will have, a serious mental illness before they reach adulthood. Within this group of children:

  • 11% are mood disorders
  • 10% are behavior or conduct disorders
  •  8% are anxiety disorders

Unfortunately, the effects of technology on youth are not only spreading to a larger population, but they have also shown to be long-lasting as well. To put things into perspective, about 50% of lifetime mental illness cases started at the age of 14 and 75% began by the age of 24. With this in mind, it is important to take cautionary steps to mitigate potential risk factors for our children, including their access to technology. 

As their parents, it is your duty to find other activities for your children to become involved in. Whether that means enrolling them in a child’s summer camp, putting them in art classes, or even just organizing extra parent-child bonding activities throughout the week. 

How You Can Help?

It may be nearly impossible to avoid technology in all forms, but it is important to monitor your kids and limit the amount of time spent on social media or looking at a screen. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends less than one to two hours of entertainment screen time per day for children and discourages the use of any screen media by children under two years of age. Additionally, using screens for communicating with friends and loved ones may be beneficial for some children and teenagers, but it is important that parents monitor this use to ensure that it is positive. It is recommended that parents and caregivers use technology alongside children and youth, and engage them in discussions about safe and healthy media use. 

Because children don’t start showing symptoms until they are around 8 to 10 years old, mental illness in kids can go undetected. As parents, it’s imperative that you learn the tell-tale signs and symptoms associated with mental health disorders so you can get your child the treatment they need should an issue be present. Below are some of the most common warning signs in teens and adolescents:

  • Extreme mood swings
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Severe changes in sleeping habits, personality traits, and behavior
  • Difficult time concentrating 
  • Extreme sense of worry or fear during daily activities
  • Attempting to harm one’s self or thinking about it
  • Partaking in risky behaviors that can lead to harming themselves or others
  • Sudden weight loss or weight gain
  • Feeling withdrawal or sad
  • Signs of addictive behavior in regards to the internet

If you suspect that your child may be experiencing a mental health condition, do not wait to seek help. There is no shame in going to a therapist or doctor when it comes to mental disorders. If you don’t know where to go for help, consider talking to your child’s school counselor, their pediatrician, or even a mental health specialist within your area. 

Even if your child is not showing symptoms of a mental health disorder but appears to be a little too attached to their phone or computer, it’s important that you sit down with them and explain the dangers of technology. Creating these boundaries and informing your children about potential threats is an excellent way to stay prepared should an issue arise. Create an open discussion with your children and listen to their thoughts and concerns about social media. Does screen time support their health and well-being? Do they show depressive symptoms when talking about their social networks? Moving forward, try to be as vigilant as possible when it comes to monitoring their screen time. By being prepared and being open with your children, you’ll hopefully be able to prevent or worsen mental health conditions within your kids. And remember, if your child does need mental health treatment, get them help as soon as possible.