January 22, 2019
There are more and more claims surfacing that we are addicted to technology. Whether it be an addiction to the internet, social media or video games, the rise in concern has mostly been focused on the combination of smartphones and teenagers. Indeed, over recent years technology has weaved its way into the fabric of our everyday lives at an unprecedented rate. Though most of us would now struggle to imagine life without smartphones, is there a real threat of addiction? Here we’ll take a look at the cases for and against.
There are genuinely psychologists proposing that internet or technology addiction is a real problem which can be diagnosed. In China there are even treatment clinics dedicated to aggressive rehabilitation. In medical terms, technology addiction is obsessive tech-related behavior that’s practiced in spite of the associated negative consequences. The bottom line is that it is an addiction when it does the individual more harm than good, and stopping causes withdrawal symptoms.
As has been long known with video games, recreational use of technology can stimulate the reward centers of the brain. Though parallels are sometimes drawn with drug use, comparison with gambling addiction is more realistic. When pleasure hormones such as dopamine and endorphins are released there is the potential for addiction, and this is more likely in teenagers going through significant hormonal changes.
One reason that teens are vulnerable is that parents never experienced today’s massively interconnected technologies when they were growing up. As a result, it’s believed that there is a general lack of awareness of the risks of posed to teenagers, with technology use rising both dramatically and stealthily.
For instance, several studies now show that teens typically have complicated relationships with their smartphones. 95% of teens having access to them, and somewhat surprisingly, 54% of American teens actually fret that they spend too much time on their phones. 56% report feeling anxious or upset whenever they are cut off from their devices.
Due to the brain’s neuroplasticity, heavy technology use can cause long term changes in neural pathways, affecting attention, emotional processing, and decision-making. Accordingly, some research suggests that levels of attention in youths is actually shortening, year on year.
Other factors include worries over the following.
While the comparison to addictions like substance abuse is suggested by some professionals, other experts point out critical differences. Dr. Matthew Cruger, a neuropsychologist specialist in youth learning and development, contends that the concept of tolerance is a central factor in youth technology use.
“Addiction doesn’t really capture the behavior we’re seeing. With addiction you have a chemical that changes the way we respond, that leads us to be reliant on it for our level of functioning. That’s not what ‘s happening here. We don’t develop higher levels of tolerance. We don’t need more and more screen time in order to be able to function.”
Going further, proponents of the lack of harm of technology claim that, technically, things such as internet or phone addiction don’t exist as medical conditions. The main concern is video gaming disorder, when unhealthy patterns of game-playing occur with clear effects on health. However, Dr. Anderson notes that such extreme behavior is quite rare.
‘Screen time’ has become a bit of parenting buzz word over the past year. First and foremost it’s about awareness of technology use. Secondly, it’s about controlling behavior, mainly so that teens engage in other developmental and recreational activities such as sports, socializing in-person with friends, completing homework, and even just getting enough sleep. Rather than going cold turkey, this approach focuses on general well-being, with technology playing a balanced role.
This may be key, because rather than technology use being pathologized as a dangerous addiction, it may actually represent a broader change in culture. Though more subtle, parallels could be drawn with the widespread adoption of television in 20th-century societies. In this sense, understanding how to use technology optimally means taking into account new norms in adolescent behavior.
If you’re curious to know what ‘nomophobia’ means, then check out our related blog.
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