As more children grow up as digital natives, they are learning to communicate with others through screens more than they socialize in-person. The social rules that they learn online are often focused on how to present themselves as interesting and agreeable rather than how to connect with others authentically. The more time teens spend online, the less present they often feel in their everyday lives. At our last parent seminar, we shared a viewing of the documentary Screenagers to open up conversations about how social media and technology use are affecting how families communicate.
The Role Technology Plays in Families
While many parents try to set a variety of limits around screen time, other families appreciate that technology can be used as a digital babysitter. Teens are often happy sitting in front of a screen and can use technology as a tool to learn more about what is going on in the world. Media may be a form of entertainment, but it also shapes teens’ social awareness and understanding of their role in society. They receive messages in the media about what relationships with their parents should look like, how often they should spend time with friends, and how to become more independent, even at a young age.
Teens who spend more time online have the convenience of staying connected to their peers at their fingertips, which makes it easier for them to feel less alone when they become isolated from their families in their rooms. The New York State Communication Association reports that family time was not affected when technology was used for school but did hurt family communications when used for social reasons. Children who spent considerable time on a popular social networking site indicated that they felt less supported by their parents.
Some psychologists are concerned that lessons learned through the media about individualism undermine the importance of collective family values. As teens become more entrenched in their digital lives and cyber-families, consisting of followers and Facebook friends, they put less effort into offline relationships. While teens are considered digital natives, many parents are apprehensive about the use of technology, which creates a generational gap between teens and their parents. This makes it more difficult for parents to teach teens how to mindfully use technology, especially as teens may be unwilling to listen to their parent’s ideas about technology if they “don’t get it.”
The movie Screenagers highlights how struggles over social media, video games, academics and internet addiction affects family relationships in terms of time spent together, levels of trust, and the way they communicate. After the screening, many teens had a sense of “so what” while parents asked “now what?” While teens who have grown up with technology believe that screen time is a normal part of adolescence and that their parents are overreacting to the way they use technology, parents who grew up differently notice the effect that it has had on their child’s mental health and socialization. Teens who already struggle with mental health issues, like depression and anxiety, are more at risk of experiencing negative consequences of “internet addiction.”
How Can We Start an Open Conversation with Our Screenagers?
Screen time is a difficult topic to approach when you and your teen come from different perspectives. However, it is important to identify how technology has shaped how they communicate in order to get on the same page. Showing that you understand where they’re coming from helps them feel like you are on the same page and that you are not judging them for the way many teens in their generation use technology.
External Barriers to Connection:
- Distractions of personal devices, such as laptops and phones
- Different work-school schedules
- Spending more time in separate rooms
- Socializing more outside the house
Internal Barriers to Connection:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Poor listening skills
- Problems trusting others
- Lack of shared experiences due to generational differences
- Lack of interest in the conversation
- Anxiety around opening up
How Can Family Therapy Help?
Family therapy can be a useful way to talk about how their screen time affects you too. It is important that teens understand that you are not concerned because you don’t like technology, but rather that you appreciate spending time with them and want them to be more present in their offline lives. Generational differences in the way they use technology is inevitable, but opening up conversations about technology can help you find common ground about your shared value for connection, despite it looking different.
“Alienation within our communities is a growing concern. Kids struggle to identify the importance of face to face interactions but are “connected” to their thousands of snap chat followers,” explains primary therapist Melissa Margolin. “The work we do at Equinox around building social skills, emotional learning and valuing relationships is almost counter-culture work, definitely counter to the culture our clients have adopted.”
Through experiential, art, and traditional talk therapy, families can explore their values and solutions to eliminating barriers to connection.
Equinox RTC Can Help
Equinox is a residential treatment center that helps boys ages 14-18 who struggle with depression, anxiety, social skills, trauma, and addictive behaviors. Equinox offers a unique treatment program designed to fit each individual’s specific needs. This treatment center has a supportive environment that helps students heal from the inside-out. Students develop a healthy sense of social and emotional awareness and learn how to incorporate good habits into their daily lives.
Contact us at 877-279-8925 for more information about how internet addiction affects screenagers and their families. We can help your family today!