The world is different for kids growing up today. They’re anxious. They’re depressed. And the irony is that the technology they rely upon for school and socializing could be making those conditions worse—and leading to mental health concerns.
Just how commonplace are mental health issues among children in elementary, middle, and high school? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests mental disorders are present in up to one out of every 10 preteens and teenagers. Additionally, CDC research suggests the rates of diagnosis and treatment are trending upward.
It’s clear that technology alone isn’t the primary culprit leading some kids to experience mental health worries. Many factors play a role in how kids see the world and their place in it, including the rocky political climate and global uncertainty.
Nevertheless, the rise in incidence of clinical depression and apprehension does seem to parallel ever-increasing use of tech devices. For that reason, plenty of parents are seeking opportunities to help their sons and daughters learn how to have healthier relationships with modern must-haves like phones and computers.
What are some of the ways moms and dads can help their children avoid becoming mentally stressed due to tech overload or reliance? Below are five strategies aimed at teaching young people the skills they need for more fulfilling technology experiences.
1. Introduce new technologies thoughtfully and slowly.
Buying a child a first smartphone has become somewhat of a rite of passage for families. Handing over a device capable of exploring every aspect of the web can introduce a youngster to inappropriate, disquieting, and confusing information.
Consequently, parents who want their children to have a phone for practical purposes should consider purchasing a scaled-down phone for kids—that’s designed to fuel young minds, not deplete them.
Giving a preteen a phone that doesn’t include Internet browsing capabilities or a link to the app store allows the child to explore tech securely. It also takes away the lure of social media, lowering the likelihood of online bullying. Digital harassment is widespread among the younger set. As a result, allowing a child to develop good habits (and a sense of perspective) regarding phone use prior to gaining Internet access makes sense.
2. Set limits on where and how to use technology.
It’s no secret that kids like to explore tech; they’ll play around on a device all day if offered the opportunity. Unchecked, this type of behavior can lead to a full-blown technology addiction. In fact, children’s over-reliance on screen time has become a universal concern among parents because it has been linked to cognitive delays, bouts of insomnia, and lowered mental health.
Rather than eliminating all technology, which could lead to withdrawal or resentment, parents may want to designate family usage parameters. As an example, kids might only be able to use their tech devices at certain times of day or in specific rooms. Some moms and dads are making bedrooms tech-free spaces to curtail the chance of excessive tech dependence and foster improved sleep hygiene.
3. Look for changes in kids’ mental health and emotional responses.
Kids’ emotions can change on a dime, and tweens and teens are notorious for their mood swings. Still, parents need to pay attention when their children’s mental health responses seem to move beyond the ordinary. For instance, a teenager who throws a full-blown, kindergarten-like temper tantrum at the thought of being without their phone for a few hours isn’t exhibiting an age-appropriate reaction to the situation.
What should parents do if they suspect their kids are becoming too emotionally reliant on access to tech? Removing the technology suddenly can be tempting, but that probably isn’t the wisest or easiest solution.
Instead, mothers and fathers should talk about their concerns with their kids. Opening the door to communication in a calm way can allow children to express their feelings safely. From that point, parents can set new household tech rules and introduce their kids to professional help if needed.
4. Spend more tech-less time as a family.
It’s tough for children to police themselves when it comes to tech, especially if their parents are always on their phones or watching TV endlessly. Moms and dads who want to foster a sense of distance between kids and technology need to put down their tech regularly, too.
Going tech-less throughout the day as a household unit isn’t just valuable for kids, either. Adults also need regular breaks from screen time. (And they aren’t good about getting them.) Turning off tech devices encourages everyone to concentrate on offline pursuits such as exercising, playing an instrument, tackling yard work, or reading.
Over time, kids who learn to avoid reacting to every ding, warble, and ping that emanates from their phones will feel more confident and self-disciplined. And improved self-esteem is linked to better mental health in all ages.
5. Open the door to in-depth discussions about tech topics.
Sometimes, the simplest way to solve any problem is to talk about it. Therefore, parents should feel free to bring up conversations with their kids about mental health and subjects like social media or gaming. Though youngsters may be reluctant to say much at first, they’ll probably warm up over time.
Moms and dads should take these opportunities to learn more about the latest platforms, too. Many parents were surprised by the sudden explosion of teen-heavy online social arenas like Instagram and, more recently, TikTok.
Rather than staying in the dark, parents should educate themselves and lean on their kids to learn more about popular sites. Understanding why a site is appealing to young people can be the first step toward dialoguing about weightier issues like the dangers of social validation and the quest for “perfection.”
Kids deserve to feel healthy physically and mentally. Helping them understand how to approach technology from a more confident, objective perspective will improve their overall well-being. And that’s only going to be an asset as they grow into adults in an increasingly tech-driven world.