There is a growing mountain of evidence showing clinical and neurological consequences of digital technology on mental health (1). Generation Y, or Millennials, were the first generation to grow up with the internet, cell phones, and digital interactions. Technology has brought great advancements. For instance, the digital world allowed for convenient communication, improved efficiency in healthcare, and enhanced learning opportunities by way of easier access. Advancements in technology have also come at a cost. Children who overuse technology may be more likely to experience low academic performance, language delay, poor sleep quality, inattention, anxiety, depression, and increased health risks, such as obesity and vision impairment (2).
Recent studies report United States adolescents ages 10-14 utilize technology an average of eight hours a day (3). The current Generation Z, or iGen, are noted to spend more time isolated from their peers as well. Technology is affecting our youngest and most vulnerable. Many well-meaning parents are oblivious to the ill effects of increased screen time. Sadly, while some parents do recognize the damaging effects excessive digital time may have, they remain in convenience-induced denial (1).
Dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain, is released when the brain is expecting, or receives, a reward. When you come to associate a certain activity with pleasure, mere anticipation may be enough to raise dopamine levels. Positive engagements with social media and video games can lead to increased dopamine rushes. As outside influence takes over, the body’s ability to make and release its own dopamine is impaired. It is no surprise the number of adolescents reporting irritability, anxiety, and depression has gone up dramatically.
I’ve frequently tried to relay the biochemical consequences to my patients. Often, parents are grateful their child is safe in their room “communicating with others” or “playing games” and not “out on the streets.” But is this really a safe option?
- Kardaras N. (2016). Glow Kids. New York, NY: St Martin’s Press.
- Effects of Technology on Children During a Pandemic. (2021). Regis College. Retrieved from https://online.regiscollege.edu/blog/effects-of-technology-on-children/.
- Nagata J.M., Cortez C.A., Cattle C.J., & et al. (2022). Screen Time Use Among US Adolescents During the Covid-19 Pandemic: Findings from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study. JAMA Pediatr. 176(1), 94-96.