A recent article in The New York Times highlights the growing youth dependence on technology. The Times reports that even though “Internet addiction is not yet considered a clinical diagnosis here, there’s no question that American youths are plugged in and tuned out of ‘live’ action for many more hours of the day than experts consider healthy for normal development.” And this type of distraction from real life comes with ramifications.
Referred to by The Times as screen addiction, youth who are too attached to their televisions, computers, and smart phones might not be developing and mastering the social emotional skills they need for success in life. The Times reports that in our contemporary culture such dependency starts early as children engage in technology rather than “observing the world around them and interacting with their caregivers.” Peer and caregiver bonding, as well as real-world experience, are all giving way to a simulated reality.
This type of reliance on technology not only interferes with times when youth could otherwise be studying, but late night texting and other screen time may lead to sleep deprivation. As The Times points out, schoolwork “can suffer when media time infringes on reading and studying” and technology is a “poor substitute for personal interaction.” Phone communication also steals youth of face to face interaction, which may result in overall isolation and loneliness, as well as compromised social skills.
Youth need a healthy balance between their relationship with technology and their human interactions. Such a balance is essential to the development of school and career readiness, because nothing can replace the skills youth learn through relating to others in person. Youth inexperienced in social dynamics and human interaction are disadvantaged in higher education and workplace environments that depend on social competency for success.
The first step in addressing youth’s overdependence on technology is simply to become aware of it. Caregivers can encourage youth to engage in face to face interaction, rather than rely so heavily on technology. Educators can foster in youth the social emotional skills that will help them bond with peers and adults as well as self-regulate the time they spend with technology. Each moment is an opportunity for us to reach beyond the technology divide, to model for children what it means to truly connect.