Encouraging Screen-Free Time This Summer

The term “digital natives” refers to individuals who are born into and grow up in a world where the Internet, and the various forms of technology we use to interface with it, have gone mainstream. More than a concept, the reality is that our children are growing and developing in a world filled with amazing technology – but much of the long-term effects of this technology on the physical and psychological development of a child is completely unknown, and preliminary research is not completely positive.


Studies show that teens use digital devices and consume digital media anywhere from six to nine hours a day. During this time, their eyes are undergoing strenuous physical exertion, amplifying near-sightedness and possibly aggravating ocular problems later in life. All the while, we have long known that excessive use of technology promotes poor posture, atrophies the musculature of the neck and posterior chain, resulting in back pain and much more.


We are presented with a unique challenge in that today’s generation is born into developing these habits at a young age – but aside from how it may impact their growth and physical health, there are numerous possible mental effects to take into consideration.


While the internet and advances in technology allow the digital world to come closer together than ever, it effectively splits us further apart in the real world. Teens today grow increasingly anxious and introverted, struggle with social behavior, and many have problems making new friends outside of the context of chat rooms and social networking.


For many adults today, the social aspect of the internet amplifies our ability to reconnect with people and recollect memories. But for adolescents, the inability to connect with others in the real world can cause stunted emotional growth. The anonymity of the internet has allowed for increasingly worse forms of cyberbullying – in real life, slinging insults came at the price of experiencing remorse, and communicating face-to-face with others helps us develop empathy. Without the feedback that comes from hurting others, bullying is on a rise.


More than the abject disparaging of their peers, teens struggle with another thing – the impact of social media on teenage mental health. Social media and social networking are separate. Social networking involves connecting with others through the Internet – but social media is the content we share with one another, tailoring our own self-image online, becoming increasingly conscious of our public perception, and as a result, many often begin grooming insecurities and anxieties because of excessive social media consumption.


In short, we must be aware that for all the benefits of technology, there are dangers to consider. Excessive smartphone and computer use results in physical problems, caused by a sedentary lifestyle and poor posture. The constant stream of social media and entertainment can build anxieties and insecurities, and distract teens from their studies and priorities, shortening attention spans and creating a generation reliant on online tools to function socially.


Taking teens completely out of this environment, however, is an irresponsible approach to addressing these issues. Instead, awareness must be spread on the negative effects of excessive screen-time, and frank conversations must be had with teens to make them aware of how their mental health and behavior is affected by the tools and technologies they are most comfortable with today.


Furthermore, alternatives are important. More than a way to connect with others, teens turn to their phones to pass time and kill boredom. Suggesting summer programs that get them physically and socially involved with others can help them boost their self-esteem, build better social skills, and strike a better balance between their tech use and real life.


As growing young adults, their responsibilities are ever expanding, and among them rank the importance of self-care and accountability – while social networks and the Internet are important tools in today’s society both privately and professionally, learning to use them responsibly and look after one’s own physical and emotional health is every bit as important as pursuing academic success, or planning for a future career.


“Even for clients who don’t have social media addiction, there is a big risk in excess screen time being the source of sensory overload issues and a lack of self-control in adolescents. Parents who rationalize that screen-time by saying it’s “just a part of today’s culture” don’t realize it actually undermines the brain’s development.”

– Emily Armour, M.S., LPCC (LPCC 4462), NCC, Program Director of Point Dume