Teenagers are going through an explosion of developmental changes (biological, social, and psychological), which is what might make you especially sensitive to the social challenges of COVID-19. This is the time when teenagers are meant to rely more heavily on their peers and develop independence from parents; it is a time for exploring your identity, heightened sensation seeking, and the beginning of forming romantic relationships.
Parents often worry about how much time their children spend on social media - this has only worsened during the pandemic. But the truth is, digital connection has also been a life saver during this pandemic - sometimes literally. It might surprise you to hear that bothgroups are right in the seemingly endless debate about screen time. Social media may be especially helpful for teens while we are being required to social distance; but it may also negatively impact your physical and mental health. That is why I will focus on learning the ways in which to use social media in the most positive ways for your overall health. It's not clear that the problem is how much time teens spend on social media; the problem seems to be in what types of social media teens engage in.
Screen Time Choices for Emotional Health
Some of the ways teenagers are using technology beneficially include: accessing information and resources about COVID-19, staying connected to existing friends, and identity exploration and creative expression on social media. Teens who are in an unsafe environment are also using technology to find a supportive community and resources to help.
Many teens engage in risk-taking behaviors. Having access to information about COVID-19 can help teenagers to stay safe, as can personal stories of people impacted by COVID-19.
The best forms for staying in touch digitally include video conferencing and texting, because these provide true interpersonal connection. Using technology to explore your identity or to express yourself creatively are also considered positive forms of technology use.
Potentially Harmful Uses of Technology
Below is a list of ways technology could be more harmful than helpful:
a) Fake news/misinformation
b) Self-presentation/body image - this may be worsened because of the lack of seeing peers in-person. Digital representations often employ a variety of filters/editing tools to change people's visual appearances. The effects of this may hit teens harder due to the lack of real life encounters.
c) Anxiety/mood - stems from negative social comparisons about lifestyles, accomplishments, and material possessions. Also from the constant flow of content that can be scary or overwhelming about the pandemic.
d) Sleep/circadian rhythm disruption
As is the case with most things, technology will impact each of us uniquely, as we are all unique individuals. This means you must evaluate for yourself if you are using beneficial or harmful forms of technology.
1. Think of all the different ways you use technology, the different apps you use, the video games you play, shows you watch. Write a short reflection on which types of screen time you use are beneficial to your emotional health, and which ones are potentially causing emotional harm. Here is an interesting article on this topic that breaks down various apps.
2. If you would like to run a self-experiment, add screen time limits to the apps that you think are potentially harmful. Feel free to also set an overall downtime hour to encourage better sleep. Challenge yourself to stick to your screen time limits for a week, and note your feelings each day of the week.