In February 2017, the American Psychological Association (APA) released data from their annual nationwide “Stress in America” survey. The survey, conducted during August 2016 and January 2017, assessed the link between a range of factors on reported levels of stress. Some of the potential stressors surveyed included societal variables, such as the current political climate, technology, and social media. In reviewing the APA’s report, it was not surprising to learn that the majority of Americans surveyed own a computer or smartphone, and that the vast majority of young adults have reported using social media. In assessing technology and social media usage patterns, the researchers identified the profile of the “constant checker,” or those who check their email, texts, or social media accounts frequently and consistently throughout the day. The survey found that 43% of Americans fall into that category, and that these constant technology users generally report higher stress levels than those that do not describe themselves as so attached to their devices. Further information on the APA survey can be found here.
Despite our society’s avid use of social media and reliance on devices, a notable percentage of the “constant checkers” surveyed by the APA acknowledged that they worried about technology’s negative impact on physical and mental health. In addition, the APA reported that a notable percentage of parents surveyed reported that they worry about the impact of social media on their children’s wellbeing (with the percentage being significantly larger for parents of girls). These days, it seems like children and adolescents can be as attached to technology as adults. Although many families try to set limits around technology and social media usage, it is not uncommon to find that devices and “screen time” can be a significant source of conflict and stress in the household. While some families have no difficulty setting rules about technology use, I often hear from parents about the challenges of curbing, curtailing, or forbidding the use of devices. Often parents want to set healthy rules, but also want to be mindful of the reality that technology can be a tool for learning and that social media can be an important avenue of connection with peers. In the service of finding balance, the APA (citing the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations) released the following guidelines in regards to “Promoting Healthy Technology Use”.
In reviewing their recommendations, I was pleased to see that their statements suggest encouraging open communication, monitored exposure to technology, and mindful use of devices. Although it can be tempting to take a reactive approach to technology and devices, we can often be more helpful by modeling and teaching children to make informed choices about the internet and social media. I hope that by acknowledging both the risks and benefits of technology, the importance of moderation, and the need for thoughtful supervision, we will be able to reduce the stressful impact of technology on both children and adults.