The Effects of Technology on Teen Anxiety, Depression and Mental Health

We can’t talk about the effects of technology on teens without the mention of social media, so we’re just going to dive right in.

Elementary, middle and high school students are of the social media generation; they’ve been exposed to it their entire lives and don’t remember a time without it.

Regardless of personal opinions on technology, social media, teens and how these three things interact, here are a few facts worth noting:

  1. Two-thirds of teens have access to internet-capable mobile devices (a.k.a. smartphones).
  2. Ninety percent of teens have used social media.
  3. On average, teens spend roughly nine hours per day on the internet, not including time spent on homework.

Being the most prevalent form of technology that teens have access to today, social media not only opens the door for brutal cyber bullying, but also for mental health issues linked to comparison, materialism, body image, self-worth and more.

Avoiding the influence of social media is nearly impossible for teens and, with the rise of safety concerns in schools, many districts are opting to allow students access to their phone all throughout the school day. But, what does this mean for mental health?

Well, according to experts, technology is not inherently bad. Most problems lie in the way in which we interact with it.

In many situations, access to technology has vastly improved the educational system by streamlining communication with parents, improving the student-teacher relationship and presenting information in more engaging, tactful ways. Technology has both the power to encourage collaboration and provide access to positive social groups, as well as flood teens with unrealistic imagery, inappropriate information and distractions from finding peace in the present moment.

Yet, we cannot downplay the correlation between the rise of technology along with increases in teenage mental illness and suicide. Anxiety has become the most prevalent mental health concern among teens with 62 percent of undergraduate students admitting feelings of “overwhelming anxiety.”

So, back to the burning question… What does this mean for teenage mental health?

It means that schools should consider a more holistic approach that neither outwardly banishes technology nor labels it as good or bad. As educators and parents, it’s our responsibility to teach our kids how to monitor their contact with technology by demonstrating situations in which it is helpful and situations in which it is a distraction or harmful.

Technology is already too far intertwined with education culture for us to ignore it, and the same goes for the alarming statistics on teenage mental health. Overall, our students need the tools, education, mindfulness practice and understanding that technology is just one of many potentially toxic substances the world has to offer. Its infiltration into our lives is largely out of our control. But, what we can control is our relationship to it, our commitment to improving access to counseling and mental health resources in schools and our job as adult role models to open up the conversation about mental health and create a safe space for sharing the struggles felt by many of us.

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