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A Therapist’s Perspective on Digital Dependence: What Does That Mean for My Teen?

Emily Ehrens, LMSW, CADC 

What is Technology Addiction?

Parents often ask the question: “Why won’t my child abstain from staring at their screen?” The truth of the matter is that parents fall guilty to the same standard. Technology addiction includes social networking, surfing the internet, video games, live streaming, and television watching. 

Just like any addiction, the goal in treating the emotional, psychological and physiological pain is to create a healthy relationship with the defense. As internet connectivity and smartphone technology usage increase in modernization, research points to the alarming effects that compulsive internet use has on both the brain and mental health functioning. 

Despite negative consequences or emotional deprivation from repeated use, teens continue to seek out their phones to soothe isolation, discontentment, or escape reality. The emotional symptoms mirror those seen in substance use or drug withdrawal. For instance, a cognitive reward that teens may pursue can be captured through “likes” “shares” or beating a video game level. Prolongation and the individual will begin to crave this process, dopamine release, and it will often require an increase in the stimulus to get the same effect.

Negative Impacts 

Screen time is something I encourage clients to be mindful of as it presents new potentially damaging challenges while our world in 2020/2021 has gone remote. The relationship between interpersonal connection and social networking technology creates a case that supports the opposite functioning. According to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, “young adults who spent more time on social media felt more socially isolated.” Primack, Brian & Shensa, Ariel & Sidani, Jaime & Whaite, Erin & Lin, Liu & Rosen, Daniel & Colditz, Jason & Radovic, Ana & Miller, Elizabeth. (2017). Formerly considered cherished closeness, empathy, and meaningful experiences are currently being lost to the digital landscape. Living in a high-tech world directly impacts mental well-being, but also comes at the expense of our physical health. Less mindful movement, eye and neck strains, and unhealthy diet or exercise promotion are increasing.

While it is nearly impossible to ignore plugging-in from remote desktops, tablets, and iPhones; I work with clients to manage the stress and anxiety that society has pressured to always be “online”. Furthermore, the anxiety experienced while being away from your cellular device has even been given the name nomophobia. The irony of in-person gatherings is that phone usage continues to remain high as does the desire to receive the positive stimulus registered and learned.

Digital Balance and Care 

A goal for having digital detox is to create natural mood enticers that can work to manipulate the body’s neurological response to checking the phone by mimicking its serotonin secretion. Natural remedies that can produce improved well-being and an undistracted quality experience include examples such as: 

  •       Taking a walk with a friend
  •       Taking a hot shower
  •       Baking a delicious dessert
  •       Completing a journal entry
  •       Meditation/Yoga
  •       Completing a puzzle

I work to help teens make use of natural health-enhancing activities by learning how to calm and soothe emotions, reframe thoughts and behaviors through daily practice, leading to less synthetic or artificial solutions to achieve the same state of well-being and self-regulation. Covering topics such as self-esteem, depression, anxiety induced by the media, and effective self-care are areas where nutritional value concerning technology are important for teens and young adults. 

If you or your child is currently struggling with technology addiction, talk to your therapist to learn more ways to explore healthy outlets and effective coping strategies. Contact Symmetry Counseling today to meet with one of our Chicago counselors in-person or via online counseling.

This blog is supported in reference by:

Mateo, A. (2021, January). How to Improve your Digital Wellness. Health, Chapter 2.

Monroe, J. (n.d.). Protecting Teens from Addiction Technology. Newport Academy Programs Resource.

Primack, Brian & Shensa, Ariel & Sidani, Jaime & Whaite, Erin & Lin, Liu & Rosen, Daniel & Colditz, Jason & Radovic, Ana & Miller, Elizabeth. (2017). Social Media Use and Perceived Social Isolation Among Young Adults in the U.S. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 53. 10.1016/j.amepre.2017.01.010.

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