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How games, social media and technology affect your teen’s health

Constantly arguing with your teen to turn off the video game? With Fortnite, has your family room become a battleground royale? Do you find the YouTubers your teen obsessively talks about mind numbing? Can you relate to any of the memes that your 13-year-old finds hilarious?

Many youth and adolescents spend multiple hours each day absorbed in social media and other forms of technology. Easily accessible, technology is used to communicate and gain knowledge. It provides entertainment, relaxation and a means of escape.

Limited research muddles whether engaging with social media and other cyber activity is harmful to youth and adolescent mental health. Some studies indicate that online connections can be beneficial and other research suggest youth who spend more time with technology than their peers are more likely to experience negative effects such as depression, anxiety and feelings of low self-worth.

Interaction with technology, including social media, stimulates the reward center of the brain releasing the pleasure chemical dopamine. Dopamine is released during cyber activity including video game play and for online behavior such as receiving “likes” on social media. When pleasure occurs from an activity, it is more likely that the activity will be repeated.

Teens often glorify their life experiences in posts on social media. Youth may compare themselves to their peer’s artificially enhanced or staged life events and experience feelings of low self-esteem. If a youth begins to have feelings of inadequacy, this may increase the risk or severity of depressive symptoms, anxiety, feelings of inferiority or deflated self-assessment.

Cyberbullying, deliberate often repeated peer abuse that involves technology, can happen on social media and video gaming platforms. Cyberbullying includes sending or posting, harmful, false or cruel content; and sharing negative personal or private information intended to harm, embarrass or humiliate someone else. Although cyberbullying is not directly linked to suicidal ideation, it is linked to depression and depression may lead to suicidal thoughts.

Youth and adolescents can be taught to use technology safely, as informed consumers, with support from parents and caregivers:

  • Set age-appropriate boundaries and expectations

  • Discuss appropriate information to share

  • Engage in conversations about the technology your child is using

  • Become familiar with the games, apps and social media personalities your children engage with

  • Provide opportunities for your children to practice perspective taking on and offline

  • Explain and discuss concerns about social comparison and approval seeking

  • Create a plan for what to do if your child feels unsafe or threatened online and help them report it

Teens can find balance with online connections and face-to-face friendships. Have your child teach you their strategies in an online battle arena. Let your teen tell you what they like about the YouTubers they follow. And about those memes, forget about it, we just wouldn’t understand.

See: www.connectsafely.org and www.commonsensemedia.org for more tips for parents and teens.

Stephanie Colvin-Roy is the special projects managing coordinator for the Center for Schools and Communities.
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