As technology continues to advance (at a sometimes-dizzying pace), some parents worry that their children are spending too much time on their devices. Some are even concerned that their kids may become addicted to technology, and place strict limits on screen time to avoid negative consequences. However, experts disagree on whether there’s any actual cause for alarm.
While technology can become problematic if children are giving up other activities or neglecting schoolwork to play video games or maintain their social media persona, the reality is that technology is an integral part of our lives. There are advantages to being competent with it, and the risks of becoming addicted may not be as significant as some perceive.
Here are a few reasons to not worry too much about kids becoming addicted to technology:
Technology addiction isn’t that common
Parents may fear that their teens will develop addictions to technology, but the actual risk is relatively low. Research on U.S. adolescents shows that only 15.7% of them report experiencing behaviors related to problematic Internet use more frequently than “sometimes.” For the majority of teens, it appears that addictive behaviors surrounding technology only occur occasionally and do not interfere with daily functioning.
Not all technology use is problematic
While technology can sometimes create problems for teens, only certain forms appear to negatively impact kids. For example, a 2019 report in JAMA Pediatrics analyzed the results of 58 studies and found that screen time in general did not correlate with poorer grades — but watching television and playing video games specifically did.
Furthermore, the research found that youth who used screen media for over 7 hours a day were less likely to perform well in school, but those who spent 2-4 hours per day using it were more likely to perform well when compared to those who used it for under 2 hours daily. Thus it seems that some use of technology can actually benefit teens, whereas only excessive amounts — especially in the form of TV and video game use — are truly concerning.
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Technology actually benefits teens once they get to college
Not only is most technology use relatively innocuous, but it can actually aid teens once they make the transition to college. For example, a 2016 study showed that college students who used technology were engaged in their learning and took more ownership of their education through self-directed learning.
Technology can help students explore topics related to their studies, and it is a helpful vehicle for conducting research, completing assignments, and interfacing with course material. Teens who develop strong technology-related skills both before and during college are also better-prepared to use technology in the workplace after graduation.
Drug and alcohol addiction is far more problematic
Technology has a critical place in modern society. And while it can be addictive for some, it’s generally far less detrimental than drug use, which is common among young people. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, for example, 5.8% of high school seniors use marijuana daily, and 30.2% have used alcohol within the past month.
Given the fact that substance abuse in teenage years increases the risk for addiction later in life, adolescent drug use is far more concerning than the overuse of technology.
Drug and alcohol addiction is a concern among teens, but technology addiction may not be as big of a problem as some believe. There are cases where teens spend too much time browsing social media or playing video games, but the research suggests that incorporating technology into their lives can still allow or even support a successful academic career; in some cases, tech-savvy even brings significant benefits.
Parents must weigh the risks and opportunities inherent in the use of technology and determine whether it rises to the level of being a harmful addiction. It seems that, in most cases, it does not.