As a parent, perhaps you are annoyed as I am with teens’ excessive use of cell phones, but are you aware of the dangers posed by this addiction to technology?

As we learn more about the impact of technology a couple of facts stand out: how addictive smart phones are, and how damaging social media can be to adolescents’ mental health.

The latest statistics on teen mental health are alarming. Anxiety, depression, and suicide rates are increasing. Between 2010 and 2016, the number of teens who experienced at least one depressive episode leapt by 60%. Young women are suffering the most: a CDC report released earlier this year showed suicide among teen girls has reached 40-year highs. Experts in adolescent mental health believe social media is fueling this scary trend.

What’s causing this? Smart phones and social media have become an integral part of the social landscape of teens today, which suggests it’s a contributing factor. Technology is magnifying age-old problems, like “teenage angst”.

The teenage brain

Teens have underdeveloped impulse control, empathy, and judgment compared to adults. They are also drawn to high risk behaviors. The anonymity of social media, gives kids (and adults) a platform for cruel, bullying behavior that they might be discouraged from in face to face interactions. Young women are especially vulnerable to this type of bullying as it relates to their sexuality and body image.

Screen Time vs Real Time

Parents and researchers agree smartphones are having a profound impact on the way adolescents communicate with one another and spend their free time. The lack of face-to-face interactions is detrimental to developing interpersonal skills. We’ve all witnessed groups of teens with heads down, staring at screens instead of making eye contact with each other. This goes against our basic nature. Human beings are social animals, we are meant to respond to eye contact, touch, shared laughter and body language.

How can parents help?

This will not be an easy problem to solve for the very reasons the problem exists in the first place; the devices are incredibly powerful and addictive. Obvious rules like no phones at dinner or no phones after 11:00 PM are, in practice, a running battle to enforce. If you are anything like me you often give up or get outsmarted. The answer, I believe, is in a long-term campaign similar to those against other public health hazards like smoking and drunk-driving. To start, we can collectively exert pressure on technology companies by making our desires clear and shifting our purchasing power to devices that support this agenda. For example, it’s infuriating that I have no control over my (legal minor) child’s device that I pay for. A button on my phone that allows me to “screen lock” my child’s phone or put it in “airplane mode” would be an excellent start. For specific suggestions on configuring your phone to be less invasive, visit

On the public advocacy front, support school initiatives to have stricter rules regarding phone usage. Some districts have already begun making school campus a ‘phone free zone’. Add this topic to your next PTA meeting.

Finally, dig in and make some hard changes at home. This will be easier with the support/cooperation of other parents. Try banning phones from your child’s next party, concert or sporting event.

Having technology at our fingertips presents a challenge for everyone. It makes life more convenient on many levels, but our biggest priority is our basic need to connect with each other. Do your best to model for your children how to be present, and find balance, in our technology-driven world.

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