Teens and screens is not a new topic. However, this past year has changed many of our habits. How are screens really impacting our teens? This pandemic period has been challenging for all of us in so many ways, particularly adolescents. What’s more, our youth are relying on screens more than ever. For many, school has been happening online and due to distancing, a lot of social activity occurs there also. Parents have a lot of questions on the matter. Our expert team reviewed some of the most recent research on the topic to answer some vital questions. What impact is this having? Should we be concerned? How do we set limits?

The Teen Years

The adolescent years are a vulnerable time for teens and young adults, as they bridge the gap between childhood and adulthood. Adolescents impacted by behavioral health issues may think, feel, and act in ways that are confusing to both them and family members. Families may experience breakdowns in communication and functioning, leading both parents and teens to feel hopeless and lost. Screens can add to this distance. The California Project partnered with the Child Mind Institute to examine how teens are coping with the pandemic and screen time. The report documents adolescents feeling isolated, exhausted, addicted to screens, and generally suffering from lack of exercise and sleep. These conditions would make anyone feel anxious or stressed. But we know, from the research, that the adolescent brain is particularly susceptible to the external influences of behaviors. In particular, the child’s imagination needs time away from screens to develop creativity and to impact the development of healthy neural pathways. This means a good night’s sleep, time outside, time interacting with friends and family, and overall cultivation of positive influences.

Here are some tips to help us support the teens in our lives.

  1. Check in. So much of what kids learn comes from our modeling. This includes communication. It is very important to maintain connection with kids, especially during the teen years. Healthy attachment is forged when adults take the time to really check-in with teens – make sure phones are put away, hold eye contact, ask direct questions, and perhaps most importantly, create opportunities to have fun together. This doesn’t mean forcing anyone to do something but try to meet teens where they are. What activities do they like? Whatever it is, remember it’s less about what you’re doing and more about the fact that you’re together.
  2. Be the change. Model healthy behaviors for loved ones. This means take time away from phones with intention and demonstrate this for everyone in the family. It’s also key to get outside for a walk, or plan some time in nature, perhaps go camping somewhere to get away from the pull of technology.
  3. Set boundaries for sleep. Sleep is hugely important. Research shows this to be a fundamental part of good mental health. The best way we can support others is through modeling and healthy boundaries with tech and upholding healthy sleep patterns. This may mean setting tech to shut off at a certain time. That Wi-Fi will be there tomorrow so just unplug.
  4. Seek professional support. If you are concerned a teen or young adult is unable to get over the hurdles they face or needs additional support, please remember you can always get input from a professional. Sometimes, we just need to share our experiences with someone objective, outside of the family dynamic. In addition, when we seek expert input we learn skills to handle dysregulation, behavioral issues, and generally work toward family harmony. It is wise to go to someone who’s trained in behavior modification, attachment theory, trauma therapy, and other beneficial modalities.

Here at SoCal Adolescent Wellness (SCAW), we provide the professional expertise to teach the key skills of emotional awareness, self-regulation, behavioral modification practices, and fundamental mental health support tools. At SCAW, we connect the symptoms and experiences with recognized diagnostic criteria and evidenced-based therapeutic interventions as we develop unique treatment plans for teens and families. We guide clients to help them adjust and adapt to anything that life brings. Furthermore, we connect adolescents with evidenced-based therapeutic interventions to develop a unique treatment plan that will benefit your teen and family. We help your teen, and your family, get well again.