These days, there’s a lot of chatter about the amount of exposure teens have to technology and its effects on their lives and well-being. It’s easy to get caught up in hysteria about the subject, just as it’s easy to assume technology is just the teen obsession of the day and will pass.

Mental health professionals focus instead on the realities of technology and teens because we deal directly with its impacts. Today’s teens use Instagram, Snapchat, Youtube, Twitter, Kik, Tumblr, Vine, and other electronic games and social media networks to connect with friends, to be entertained, and to be stimulated. There’s some value in the connections they create with other teens, but much of that value is offset by significant risks.

As teens spend more time focused on screens, we’re seeing young people lose interest in physical activities, develop mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, fail to acquire the kinds of social skills needed to grow into healthy adults, and lose many hours of sleep at an age when they need plenty of it for healthy physical and emotional development. Technology can have profound effects on bullying, sexual experimentation, and thoughts and discussions about self-harm and suicide.

Is the problem as big as it seems? Consider that as far back as 2010, a Kaiser Family Foundation study determined kids between 8 and 18 were exposed to media for an average 10 hours and 45 minutes per day. Another study reported 59 percent of children have used a social network by the time they are 10 — long before they have the emotional maturity to fully grasp the impact of their actions upon others or to recognize that what they’re seeing may be harmful. And British Columbia’s Society of Occupational Therapists claimed, “Students now rely on technology for the majority of their play, grossly limiting necessary challenges to their bodies in order to achieve optimal sensory and motor development.”

So how can you tell if your teen’s exposure to technology is putting them at risk? There are many warning signs, among them students turning off their device quickly when a parent enters the room, receiving mysterious phone calls and/or gifts, asking to get together with peers the student met “online,” increasingly isolated behaviors, changes in sleeping or eating patterns,  and academic regression.

If you’re seeing those warning signs or have other reasons to worry about technology’s effect on your teens, you may want to reach out for straightforward, knowledgeable advice. One of our professional counselors can listen to your concerns, answer your questions, and help you develop practical, proven strategies for managing your teen’s exposure and protecting them from threats they may not be able to comprehend. Safer use of technology starts with a conversation, so contact us today to set a convenient time to talk.

Jared Jones is one of Care to Change’s therapists. He focuses on helping teens who have faced challenges find the guidance and support needed to become healthy adults. Jared specializes in helping youth who are anxious, depressed, and even suicidal.

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