A Publication of WTVP

Are you raising the “techno-savvy” adolescent?

In today’s society, it is imperative that our youth learn about and benefit from technology. As parents, though, we can become overwhelmed thinking about the accessibility and usage of television, video games, texting, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, iPods, iPads, smartphones, and so on…

We may have feelings of inadequacy and helplessness, and ask: Are we losing our children to technology? Will our youth still have “hands-on” experiences, face-to-face conversations, physical activities and goals for their future? How much is too much? What is too much, and how do I moderate it?

Pre-adolescent and adolescent development can be terrifying for parents. Our children are beginning their journey and their sense of the world. They are searching for independence and questioning rules. Morals, values and ethics begin to arise, and the sense of right and wrong materializes within them. As parents, we are there to guide them along, and oh, what a challenge that can become!

Living in the Emerald City
It makes one wonder about Dorothy from The Wizard Of Oz. Think of the skills she needed during her journey: decision making, problem solving, goal setting and effective face-to-face communication. She developed so many attributes—empathy, honesty, trust, perseverance, the ability to face fears, true friendship and the importance of family—as she faced independence, straying from the yellow brick road into the haunted forest. And she did all this without technology.

The Dorothy of today would be texting, Googling, gaming, messaging and using GPS to find her way out of the haunted forest. Will today’s Dorothy be physically and mentally able to walk the yellow brick road and face the challenges of the haunted forest? Will today’s Dorothy develop meaningful empathy and experience true friendship along the way? Will she be able to accomplish the goals that she dreamed of while living in the Emerald City, waiting to pursue her future, her home, her place in the world? And will today’s Dorothy feel that concept of “there’s no place like home?”

Glued to the Screen
Okay, this isn’t Oz, but the reality is today’s youth are spending more than half their waking hours watching or using a device with a screen. According to the Generation M2 media study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2008 and 2009, students ages eight to 18 use media devices an average of seven hours and 38 minutes during a typical day—more than 53 hours per week. That is more hours than a full-time job, and more than going to school!

And many youth are “media multitasking,” actually managing to pack 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media into that time. Do the calculations: if our children are spending more than seven hours on a media device and attending school about six hours per day, that leaves less than 11 hours to bathe, sleep, eat, do homework, socialize, exercise and have some quality family time. Those youth spending so many hours using media devices are becoming obese, producing lower grades in school, getting inadequate sleep, and spending less time participating in physical activities and with their families.

According to Douglas A. Gentile, director of the Media Research Lab at Iowa State University, there are many potential dangers from this excessive media use. “We are raising a generation of kids who may have problems maintaining sustained and focused attention, because they are used to being distracted,” he says. “The more time we spend…just being passive, we are losing skills that need practice, whether that’s reading or math or social skills.” He adds, “It’s not the same type of social interaction they have when they are face to face with someone. It may not be isolating so much as socially distorting.”

A Plan for Moderate Media Use
It’s painful for parents to watch their children step away from the yellow brick road into the dark, haunted forest without the skills needed to pursue their goals. Parents are the ones who can change negative media behavior in their children. “Parents are in a powerful position,” says Gentile. “When they do put limits on how much time and types of content kids can watch, that’s a powerful protective factor for kids. Those kids get better grades…[and] get in fewer physical fights.”

Jennifer Manganello, assistant professor at the University at Albany – SUNY, adds, “The fact that many of the youth who participated in the [Generation M2] study say they have no rules regarding media use suggests we can do more to get information to parents about recommended practices to help decrease time spent with media.”

When today’s Dorothy begins to have negative effects in her life from technology and her world starts to collapse, how will her parents react? Let’s not react like the Great Wizard—let’s have a plan. Some parental recommendations for healthy, moderate media use include:

If you have questions or concerns, or wish to schedule an assessment, call 1-800-522-3784 or visit iBi

Vickie J. Lewis is the corporate services clinician at the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery at Proctor Hospital in Peoria.

» Signs of Addiction?
According to Psychological Science, 10 percent of youth who play video games show signs of addiction. The journal also reported that 8.5 percent of the kids ages 8 to 18 sampled in a 2007 Harris poll showed at least six of the 11 following addiction symptoms.

  1. Most of the child’s free time is spent on media devices.
  2. Tiredness, fatigue, falling asleep at school.
  3. Not turning in homework or keeping up with homework assignments.
  4. Grades have declined.
  5. Lying about media usage or negative consequences such as privileges or devices taken away.
  6. Choosing media devices over spending time with family and friends.
  7. Choosing not to participate or dropping out of social groups, clubs or sports.
  8. Agitated, irritable or restless if not using media devices.
  9. Attempts to quit or cut down using media devices, but unsuccessful.
  10. Spending more time using media devices than intended.
  11. Borrows money or spends all their money on media devices.