What It’s Like to Be a Kid in Our Technology-Obsessed Society

February 26, 2018

12:45 pm

Young people and technology have gone hand in hand since the dawn of time. When the first iPhone hit the market, teenagers and 20-somethings lined up around the block to try out the new device, while their parents sat at home gawking at the unbelievable price tags. When Snapchat decided to tackle the social media landscape on its own, it was younger demographics that kept them in the fight, while their older counterparts got into arguments on Facebook. Young people have been the solid foundation on which technology is built, providing all the market research and buying power that budding companies need to make an impact. But what is it doing to them in return?

With 85 percent of parents allowing children to use technology in the home and kids under 9 years old averaging two hours of screen use per day, understanding the effects of technology on kids is more important than ever. While keeping an eye on a child at the playground is easy, monitoring online behavior and media intake is no simple feat, particularly when your child is more prone to understanding the intricacies of tech than you are.

“It’s been getting harder for parents to really monitor a lot of what their kids are seeing and doing,” said Douglas Gentile, a psychology professor at Iowa State University to CNN. “At the same time, they’re relying on the seeming benefit of being able to quiet the kid at a restaurant with a device. We may be building a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster, because we’re using that power for our benefit, not for the child’s benefit.”

There’s no denying that technology is having an effect on kids. But what exactly are smartphones, selfies, and social media accounts doing to them?

The Effect

As a generation more immersed in technology than any generation before it, kids nowadays are experiencing a whole new set of technology-fueled problems that could make growing up a whole lot harder. What kind of problems? Oh, just about all of them.

Depression

Technology is designed to make life easier. Unfortunately, the link between depression and screen use has been well-documented in adults, making life decidedly less easy for any one suffering from this national epidemic. To make matters worse, technology seems to have an increasingly powerful effect when it comes to depression in young people, leading to a bevy of tragic statistics that will make even the staunchest of technophiles reconsider their stance.

According to a survey from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there has been a 60 percent increase in the number of adolescents who have experienced at least one major depressive episode since 2010. Data from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention shows that suicide rates in people age 15 to 24 have risen by 31.5 percent since 2008, the year the first smartphone came into existence. And if you aren’t sure that these numbers reflect the increase in technology, here are a few more.

A study from the Association for Psychological Science discovered that “adolescents using electronic devices 3 or more hours a day were 34 percent more likely to have at least one suicide-related outcome than those using devices 2 or fewer hours a day, and adolescents using social media sites every day were 13 percent more likely to report high levels of depressive symptoms than those using social media less often.” And while this is could fall victim to the “correlation, not causation” realm of studies, it does raise of few important questions.

“It’s possible that depressed kids are just more likely to spend time on their devices,” said Jean Twenge, the author of the study. “But that doesn’t answer the question of what caused this sudden upswing in teen depression and suicide.”

Narcissism 

In a world full of likes, shares, and selfies, narcissism is understandably hard to avoid. But when it comes to kids, technology was supposed to provide a means of boosting self-esteem rather than fostering self-interest. We all hoped that they’d have a little more restraint when it comes to chasing the all-too-common rush of being rewarded for a lack of empathy. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case, as one study showed narcissism scores of those born in the 2000s to be much higher than those in the 80s and 90s. And technology is at least partially to blame.

“The average person you’re connected with on Facebook is probably a little more narcissistic than the average person you’re connected with in real life because narcissists are skilled at those online connections,” said Twenge in her book, The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement.

Admittedly, some of the younger generations’ narcissism comes from the overly affectionate parenting movement of the last few decades. But denying technology’s role in accelerating this process is difficult at best and downright wrong at worst. And unfortunately, that’s not the only thing technology can be blamed for.

FOMO

Yes, it may sound a bit trivial, but FOMO-fueled anxiety has turned kids into attention span-less fun-seekers always searching for the next best thing. With social media constantly letting them know what’s going on around the world, in their town, and with their friends, the kids of today have become slaves to their smartphones, if only so they don’t miss out on something happening in real life.

“When we think about social media, so much of it is created on this feedback loop of notifications. They want to promote engagement,” said Ana Homayoun, author of Social Media Wellnessto CNBC’s On the Money in an interview. “They create this system where you always want to be online. And it can create this fear of missing out if we’re not online. This happens for adults as well as kids.”

The Response

Since the dawn of time, parents have been forced to take matters into their own hands when it comes to the limiting technology use of their children. While services like Tube Jr, a safe YouTube alternative for parents and children that uses actual humans instead of an algorithm to decide what content is appropriate, have become quite popular, parents around the world have begun to make concerted efforts on their own to keep usage to an acceptable minimum.

By breaking some long-used traditions, parents could be the last line of defense for protecting kids from the technology they hold so near and dear to their hearts. In hopes of getting a little more information about this new challenge in parenthood, I spoke with a few parents about how they restrict or limit technology-use in their homes. The most common thread? Outright banning tech is pretty hard.

“We live in a world of technology,” said Lia Berman, Chicago mother of one. “What? Is he never gonna see a TV? His grandparents never obeyed my TV rules so he would watch it there. When we went out to get the oil changed, there’s a TV on in the waiting room. He is 20 months old and he knows that you swipe on the iPhone. He puts the phone to his ear and mimics me.”

That inevitability, however, is not enough to stop parents from at least trying. Because with all the statistics and research out there, making an effort is really all you can do.

“I decided to limit how much he used technology,” said Berman. “I just make it a reward or something special to do for 15 minutes. That’s about his attention span for anything anyway. [Technology] is not a babysitter, and it shouldn’t be.”

Granted, when technology like smartphones and tablets first became common place, parents were thrilled that they had another means by which to occupy and keep track of their kids. But as more and more studies reveal the downfalls of using the tech on a regular basis, some parents have drawn a line in the sand at how much use is acceptable.

“It’s causes more bad habits than good,” said Colleen, mother of one. “Being able to communicate at all times doesn’t outweigh the negative effects.”

Oh, The Irony

Despite a general concern among parents about their children’s use of technology, very few insisted that an outright ban would be practical. With tech forcing its way into essentially every aspect of life at this point, preventing children from getting acclimated with their digital future is not only incredibly difficult, but could also be considered unwise. However, one group of people has been sternly opposed to kids using tech at an early age, and it’s not who you’d expect.

Tech parents, meaning of course parents that work within the tech industry, are often the staunchest opposers of kids using tech on a regular basis. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates infamously raised their children tech-free and they certainly aren’t the only ones. One survey of parents and educators in Silicon Valley found that many have become wary of tech’s effect on children, particularly from kindergarten to 3rd grade.

“You can’t put your face in a device and expect to develop a long-term attention span,” said Taewoo Kim, chief AI engineer at One Smart Lab, to Business Insider.

This trend should be a huge indicator of the confusing and unfortunate situation that has fallen on kids when it comes to technology. Yes, tech executives and Silicon Valley engineers might be a tad overly dramatic when it comes to straight up banning smartphones, social media, and other new media in the home. However, they are decidedly more versed on the subject than most, and taking a page out of their handbook might not be the worst idea.

Read more about trends in the tech world on TechCo

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Conor is a writer, comedian and world-renowned sweetheart. As the Senior Writer at Tech.Co, he’s written about everything from Kickstarter campaigns and budding startups to tech titans and innovative technologies. His background in stand-up comedy made him the perfect person to host Startup Night at SXSW and the Funding Q&A at Innovate! and Celebrate, posing questions to notable tech minds from around the world. In his spare time, he thinks about how to properly pronounce the word "colloquially." Conor is the Senior Writer at Tech.Co. You can email him at conor@tech.co.

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