As technology advances, it brings a myriad of parenting challenges that our predecessors never had to face. The internet, social media, video games, and smartphones are constantly in our children's lives. While they have their benefits, they also present significant challenges, which can have long-standing implications for mental health if not addressed correctly. As parents, we must take on the responsibility of navigating this complex landscape and equip our children with the tools necessary to thrive. And let’s face it: the challenges our children face with technology we, too, are subject to experiencing. So, it is critical that we also police ourselves when using these tools.
The Impact of Technology on the Brain
Emerging research highlights the profound influence of high screen usage on brain structure and functionality, with significant implications for cognition, attention, and mood.
There is an established correlation between intensive technology use and conditions such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), typified by sustained periods of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity. Extended screen time can remodel the brain's neural pathways, effectively transforming its composition and operational mechanisms. Furthermore, the bright light emanating from screens, particularly before bedtime, can interfere with natural sleep rhythms, potentially leading to mood disturbances and impacting overall emotional wellness. A concerning aspect is the potential for addictive behaviors, as an over-reliance on and attachment to technology can create a dependence similar to substance addiction.
As parents, we must take the time to monitor our children's screen time and ensure that it doesn't interfere with areas of development like critical thinking, creativity, and long-term memory retention.
The Disconnect in Community and Interpersonal Communication
Technology is ironic in that it has allowed us to connect with people worldwide, but it has also created a sense of disconnection within our communities. We and our children are growing up in a world where interpersonal communication is becoming. A lack of social and emotional intelligence results in difficulties in forming meaningful interpersonal relationships. It can also lead to the dehumanization of others as we are more easily able to see ourselves as separate.
Exposure to Polarizing Information and Target Advertising
While exposure to targeted advertising is nothing new, what is new is the level of consumption of these ads. It’s no longer sugary cereals, Happy Meals, and toys being shown to children. Now, they are being exposed to a vast array of polarizing content, fake news, and propaganda that once were only meant for adults. This exposure can lead to hypersensitivity, anxiety, and confusion about the world and their own identity. Additionally, with algorithms and AI, children are targeted by marketers with personalized advertisements, which can lead to issues around body image, self-esteem, and materialism.
Lack of Downtime and Introspection
Our constant connection to technology means we (adults and children) are always switched on. In children, taking essential moments of downtime and introspection is necessary for healthy brain development, especially in the early years. And for youth and adults, it is critical to our well-being and fulfillment. When we become overly reliant on external stimulation, we begin to neglect our internal world, leading to low self-awareness, anxiety, and depression. As parents, we must model and encourage healthy downtime activities, such as reading, outdoor activities, and breathing exercises that can reduce stress and increase self-awareness.
Remember, children don’t listen to what we say; they follow what we do. If we are not a healthy role model for balancing technology use, our children will unlikely be any better. And this modeling starts at a very young age.
I often notice parents walking with their babies in strollers, but instead of engaging with their child, they are staring at their phones. This behavior not only sends a message to the child that they are not as crucial as our device at that moment but also hinders the natural bond between parent and child, which is essential for developing a healthy connection and brain. As babies grow into toddlers, I observe them clutching tablets as their new security blanket. While this may give parents a sense of peace and temporarily prevent tantrums, it can lead to a dependency on devices to soothe them instead of learning how to deal with boredom and discomfort with resilience and self-management.
So, do you find yourself enabling the above? When you are together as a family, do you and your children spend most of your time fixated on your devices or on fostering meaningful connections and building memories? Remember, change starts with us.
As parents, we must understand the impacts of technology on mental health and implement healthy, holistic habits that can mitigate these effects. By promoting healthy digital habits, downtime, and self-reflection, we can better equip our children to handle the demands of the digital age and, ultimately, foster healthier relationships, cognitive development, and mental well-being.