Teens and young children are most at risk for developing internet addiction

Photo © imtmphoto - Fotolia

The need to constantly be "plugged in" can lead to many health and developmental problems for young people

Advancements in technology continue to flourish, and the current generation of millennials are taking full advantage of all that it can offer. Information is never more than a few screen taps away, but are we becoming too accustomed to being plugged in? Internet addiction has become a tangible problem, and teens and young children may be the most at risk for developing it.

An unhealthy distraction

The amount of time spent on phones, computers, and other types of entertainment media is quickly adding up for these young people. A Kaiser Family Foundation study in 2010 states that “the average 8-to-10-year-old spends nearly eight hours a day with a variety of different media, and older children and teenagers spend more than 11 hours per day.”

These statistics are worrying, but how did things get this way? Parents have welcomed these different forms of media as a way of getting their children to behave or calm down. Although television had been the go-to form of entertainment to keep children distracted, computers, laptops, and phones are quickly beginning to take their place.

The problem is that this attachment to different forms of media can be very unhealthy for young people.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that exposure to these types of technology should be limited, especially in very young children.

“A child’s brain develops rapidly during [their] first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens,” they said.

Stunted development of social skills

Constantly being plugged in can also affect the development of social skills in young people. Researchers have found that many young people that become too attached to entertainment media, such as video games, can come to see the world as being unauthentic or “fake”.  

“Children have to know that life is fine off the screen. It’s interesting and good to be curious about other people, to learn how to listen. It teaches them social and emotional intelligence, which is critical for success in life,” said Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, who is a Harvard-affiliated clinical psychologist.

Perhaps one of the biggest means of accessing entertainment media is through cell phones. More and more young people are getting access to mobile devices that can allow them to stay connected at all times. The most common apps allow them to access social media, watch videos, and message their friends instantly at any hour of the day or night. This inevitably leads them to being glued to the screen and missing out on what is happening around them.

Text messaging, in particular, has become wildly popular amongst young people. One recent study found that half of all teenagers send 50 or more texts every day, and teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 average nearly 3,400 texts a month.

Mental and physical consequences

The consequences of always looking at a screen can be both physical and mental. Young people who rely on messaging and social media to communicate inevitably have less face-to-face time with others. This can lead to them feeling isolated, which leads to depression. And because they are constantly using their hands to type, they can develop finger and wrist pain, narrowed blood vessels in their eyes (from looking at screens), and neck and back pain from being hunched over their phones and computers. 

Find a Medical Alert System partner near you.