The Impacts and Influence of Media and Technology on Teens…

Posted: July 17, 2012 in For Educators, For Parents and Guardians
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Facebook, texting, emailing, gchatting, skyping, myspace, twitter, online video gaming, streaming movies, aim, iphones, blackberries and good old fashion cell phone use. Technology and media are everywhere. This is a fact that we’re all aware of.  But what we’re not quite fully aware of are the impacts that technology and media are having on the development of our children.

It’s undeniable that technology has benefits. We can stay in contact more frequently with loved ones and organize our finances. We can share pictures, get support, order movies, get directions, research topics, shop, get home deliveries and even meet new people… all without leaving our homes. With our lives so busy, technology and social networking have allowed many of us to stay connected, learn and be entertained in ways that we wouldn’t normally be able to.

But there are costs, and by the day, we’re learning just how disruptive and influential technology and media can be to our children.

So what do we do? How can we make sure that our children are developing normally and aren’t becoming too reliant on or distracted by technology? How can we guarantee that our children are using media and technology safely and responsibly (and snooping isn’t the only way, nor is it the most ideal)?

While none of us know with any certainty how teenagers are being influenced by technology, keeping theories in mind can minimize damage over time. By considering the possible impacts of media and technology on our children, we stay vigilant… and by staying vigilant and being curious, we can break unhealthy habits before they form. Here are some theories to keep in mind and get you thinking:

  • The constant jumping between mediums (movies, music etc.) and technological devices (cell phones, IPads, IPods, laptops, video game systems etc.) creates shorter attention spans, and results in quicker frustration when faced with a task that requires patience and concentration (like taking tests, studying or doing homework).
  • The amount of violence in movies, television and music desensitizes teenagers to violence and eventually leads to them thinking that violence is “normal” and unavoidable, possibly resulting in a “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality. When children become desensitized to injustices, they start to accept them, and when a person accepts an unfortunate element of reality… they stop taking stands against it.
  • Social Networking (Myspace, Facebook, Twitter etc.) over time and extended use can lessen a child’s confidence and comfort in face to face interpersonal skills.
  • Abbreviations and purposeful misspelling of words via text and emails over time can be harmful to a child’s ability to spell and write properly, diminishing the quality of sentence structure.
  • As entertaining and accessible as technology and media can be, young people often gravitate towards their “devices” rather than dealing directly with the stresses and realities in their lives. Avoiding reality can become a habit, and seeking out distraction rather than learning how to cope with real life issues can slow down development.
  • Because many interactions now occur over the phone or on computers, young people are taking more risks because they feel they are protected by the apparent anonymity or distance. Many teenagers are now using technology to share sexually explicit pictures and express inappropriate or offensive thoughts because of the “safety” they feel having the technology serve as a buffer.
  • The immediate access to others that technology allows is preventing teenagers from thinking before they act… and as a result, they can simply feel something strong (like anger, hatred, arousal, hurt, jealousy etc.) and send a message instantaneously that they might end up later regretting. Teenagers feel a moment of anger or jealousy and send threatening messages (cyber-bullying) without thinking of the legal ramifications or the impact on the well-being of their targets… or teenagers can feel a moment of arousal or interest in another and send a flirtatious message or image that can later be sent out to many unintended targets (ie. sexting) potentially resulting in profound regret and shame (and sometimes suicidal ideation).

There are countless theories about the impacts of technology and media on teenagers. As parents, teachers and guardians, it isn’t possible to completely shelter our children from the advances society is making, nor should we try. But as caretakers, it is possible, and necessary, to stay curious and involved.  So don’t be afraid to inspire tantrums by limiting your child’s use of their computers if you feel it’s necessary… don’t shy away from talking to your children about “sexting and cyber-bullying” (as uncomfortable as this may be or as sure as you think you are that your child knows better)… and be sure to let your child know as often as you can about the benefits to playing outside and interacting with real live humans that chatting with them online just can’t duplicate.

It’s a different world than the one many of us grew up in, and as much as we’d like our teenagers to enjoy their youth in the ways that we did, or be able to set the limits that our parents set for us, it’s simply not that simple. Helping our children develop into the socially confident, versatile and intelligent young men and women we want them to become is going to require creativity and flexibility on our parts… and a whole lot of listening.

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