By Courtney Layson
Technology – How Much Is Too Much?
I distinctly remember the first commercial I saw for the original iPhone. The ad was vague, but it left viewers with a sense of anticipation. I wondered what in the world could be so different about a phone—little did I know that the world was about to change forever. Fast-forward eleven years: Last week I traveled to Searcy, Arkansas, for work, but I still managed to help my husband put our kids to bed in real time. My weekly work meetings regularly involve colleagues from all over the world. And every question I have from cooking to cancer can be found with the stroke of a few keys. Whether I’m using my Apple laptop, my iPhone, or the navigation system in my car, I enjoy all of the advances that have made life more convenient.
As a therapist, I constantly get questions from clients and from parents about the value of technology and social media. Almost everyone uses this type of technology, but most have the same lingering questions: Who should use technology? What types of technology are appropriate? When should we start using technology? How would we know if we had a problem with our overall use of technology?
Everyone needs to learn to use technology. Whether we like it or not, our world has fundamentally changed with the advent of technology. And in cases of pivotal change, we have two options: change or die. Now I know that can seem harsh. But since the beginning of time, humans have been developing and incorporating new tools to solve old problems. The ability of humanity to change is not a bad thing—it’s actually quite helpful! Technological advances are no different. We have the ability to use these advances to our benefit if we are willing to adapt and change.
Most of us have already begun the shift into technology, but there are literally hundreds of different types of technology to incorporate into our lives. When it comes to apps and social media, parents can feel overwhelmed at the number of options available especially when it comes to products marketed to kids. Obviously each parent will need to evaluate the personality, maturity level, and social skill of their individual child. But I would strongly caution parents who are simply trying to outlaw all types of social media for their children. Like it or not, this is the new normal for our kids. Social media may seem foreign to us, but this is the native language for their generation. Instead of trying to prevent our kids from using this technology, we are better off learning about the apps our kids are interested in and walking them through the process so that we have some voice in teaching them appropriate online behavior. Also, it is crucial for parents to do a little research before blindly handing over devices to their child—monitoring is necessary so that proper instruction and guidance can be provided.
Determining an appropriate age to introduce technology for kids has always been a hot topic. Schools are utilizing technology in the classroom from very young ages, so parents can feel pressured to introduce technology at home before they are personally ready to do so. When this happens, I believe it’s best to strive for balance. The idea of self-discipline is something that our children will need for their entire life. We can use lessons in technology as a springboard for opportunities to learn self-control. Teaching kids that technology is a privilege that comes along with added responsibility seems like a natural fit to me. When our children show an ability to manage small responsibilities such as utilizing technology for school purposes, then they can be trusted with bigger responsibility such as utilizing technology for fun. However, privileges are not permanent. When trust is broken, privileges are lost. This will happen in all areas of life, so the sooner our kids begin to practice this concept the better.
Researchers are learning more and more each day about the overall impact of technology on us both individually and culturally. Because of advances in neuroscience, we are able to better understand how the brain is wired to respond to the novelty that comes along with technology. Dopamine is released in the brain when we are seeking out new information, and we can become addicted to this process. Understanding the dopamine reward cycle is quite helpful in determining if we are spending too much time on our favorite devices. For example, when we start to have feelings of anxiety, irritability, or anger because we forget our phone, we are demonstrating the beginning signs of withdrawal. Although this is very common, it is an indication that we may need to set up some boundaries around our technology use.
On a personal note, I recently deleted my Facebook app from my iPhone because I realized that I was losing my ability to be bored. Each time I had even a minute or two of silence, I would reach into my bag and pull out my phone. I would check my phone in between clients to make sure I hadn’t missed any crucial information. I would even check my texts and notifications at the stoplights on my 15-minute drive home each day! In order to practice reasonable phone use, I made it more difficult to access the websites that I visit most regularly. I needed to change my behavior so that there was a bit of a speed bump between my technological drug of choice and my brain’s dopamine reward cycle. And guess what? It worked! I cut my social media use in half!! Sometimes a little behavior modification will do the trick!
Technology is here to stay, and that’s not a bad thing! But wisdom and discernment are critical in using these gifts wisely and teaching our kids to do the same. With appropriate oversight and monitoring, we can actually use the avenue of technology to build relationships with our kids while continuing to reinforce values of discipline and self-control.
Courtney Layson is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist Candidate. She and her husband Steve own Layson Counseling Group and work with individuals, couples, and families. You can contact Courtney at firstname.lastname@example.org.