“Don’t live the way this world lives. Let your way of thinking be completely changed. Then you will be able to test what God wants for you. And you will agree that what he wants is right. His plan is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2 NIRV)
“The Impact of Today’s Media on Teens”
Screens are undeniably part of modern life in 2023. Children and teens, like all of us, are influenced by technology and the mass media; some of it good, some of it neutral, but for them, most of it is negative. “On average, children 8-18 spend 7.5 hours a day in front of screens — which amounts to 114 days a year”. (www.slicktext.com) Most of the viewing takes place on cell phones.
These 7.5 hours/day of screen viewing consist of TV programs, video games, TikTok, and YouTube videos, and the activities of following social media, checking email, shopping online, and browsing websites. News reports are mostly headlines only, or just editorial rhetoric, delivered via social media sites.
Starting with the pandemic, and the mandated isolation which caused children and teens to be separated from their friends and teachers, addiction to screen time has exploded. Add Zoom calls as the accepted means for schools and clubs to communicate during that 2+ year period, and the fallout for many young people has been horrific.
Addiction to social media dominates the lives of teens. “In 2009, only about half of teens used social media every day… In 2017, 85% used it daily. By 2022, 95% of teens said they use some social media, and about a third say they use it constantly, a poll from Pew Research Center found.” (“The truth about teens, social media and the mental health crisis”, April 25, 2023, http://www.npr.org)
According to Pew Research, “About three-quarters of teens (77%) say they use YouTube daily, while a smaller majority of teens (58%) say the same about TikTok. About half of teens use Instagram (51%) or Snapchat (50%) at least once a day, while 19% report daily use of Facebook.”
In addition, “Nearly half of parents with teens (46%) are highly worried that their child could be exposed to explicit content on social media. Parents of teens are more likely to be extremely or very concerned about this than about social media causing mental health issues like anxiety, depression or lower self-esteem. Some parents also fret about time management problems for their teen stemming from social media use, such as wasting time on these sites (42%) and being distracted from completing homework (38%).” (“Teens and social media: Key findings from Pew Research Center surveys”, April 24, 2023, http://www.pewresearch.org)
Numerous concerns regarding technology and media use can be noted.
• Sleep deprivation: “On its own, sleep deprivation can cause mental health issues. ‘Sleep is absolutely crucial for physical health and for mental health. Not getting enough sleep is a major risk factor for anxiety and depression and self-harm…’”(“The truth about teens, social media and the mental health crisis”, April 25, 2023, http://www.npr.org)
• Stress and Anxiety: “More than two full years into the covid-19 pandemic, mental illness is at an all-time high—especially among children. In fact, between 2016 and 2020, the number of children aged 3 to 17 diagnosed with anxiety grew by 29% and those with depression by 27%, according to a study published in 2022 in JAMA Pediatrics. The findings also suggest concerning changes in child and family well-being after the onset of the covid-19 pandemic.” (www.apa.org/topics/children/stress)
• Isolation: “Research shows a strong link between social isolation and an increased likelihood of anxiety and depression in children and adolescents. Social isolation can cause symptoms of depression—one of the most common mental health disorders in the country—feelings of hopelessness, fatigue, and dark or suicidal thoughts. It can also increase the risk of suicidal ideation.” (“Isolation’s Silent Role in the Teen Mental Health Crisis”, November 3, 2022, http://www.psychologytoday.com)
Add these frequent consequences, and the list becomes quite lengthy:
• Eating disorders
• FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)
• Cyberbullying or being a victim of cyberbullying
We need to accept that cell phone use, computers, tablets, and the technology that drives them are here to stay. Reason must guide us in maneuvering through these difficulties toward authentic relationships in real time and space, nourishing and maintaining connection with the people in our lives.
God has directed us to follow Him, and we have been given the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us each day. But how can we hear His voice or obey His leading if our hours are filled with distractions?
So how can we help teens become media-savvy about the culture that surrounds them?
There are antidotes to the overwhelming negative aspects of these new societal norms. Parents, teachers, youth pastors, grandparents, and even neighbors who have a rapport with teens could start the awareness process by viewing this video clip and newly released article: “American Psychological Association issues advisory for teens and social media”. (May 10, 2023, abcnews.go.com)
In addition, here are some tips that might help:
• We need to check our own screen time behavior for appropriate role modeling.
• Spend time with teens and include dialog and open-ended questions that instigate real conversations about life issues. Love is spelled T-I-M-E!
• Designate some cell phone free spaces or events. Have a basket for cell phones by the front door or away from the dinner table, for everyone – adults included.
• Organize events that involve active participation, such as hikes, sports, backyard games or board games, visits to local parks or recreation centers, family or small group movie nights, cooking together, or other activities that encourage discussion and interaction.
• Set boundaries for media and technology use. Remove televisions and computers from teens’ bedrooms, and place these in an open area. Check teens’ cell phone use and discourage their visits to certain sites. Use the technology that is available for parents through your phone carrier and internet service provider.
• Talk to your teens about determining God’s plan for their lives and how technology might be keeping them from hearing the Holy Spirit. Watch and discuss these 2 short videos with your teens on how to hear the voice of God:
• Get involved with a local church. Teens can join youth groups and participate in group activities.
• Study the Bible together. Create a specific time each week and stick to it.
• Have a family book club and focus on books that model good relationships.
• Volunteer. There are many opportunities to help in the community, as individuals or as a family. Serving the needs of others can be the remedy to self-centeredness.
Note: Share this blog with your church’s youth pastor as a lesson for youth group gatherings.
Sue Summers is a Christian media analyst, teacher, author, and speaker.
She is the Director of Media Alert!
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