As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, school has moved online for many students. This means more time sitting and staring at a screen. In addition to school, teenagers are also spending a significant amount of time socializing, playing games, and shopping virtually. This over-use of technology is negatively impacting the mental and physical health of young people across the country, as well as right here at Becton.
Becton’s Student Assistance Coordinator, Mr. Connor Wills stresses that “Once people become 25-27 years of age, their brain stops developing and it is hard to change habits and learn new skills.” It is for this reason that children need to learn how to manage their emotions and not become too dependent on technology to self-regulate.
How technology is used depends on some factors and their purpose. While computers are normally used during class time, cell phones are used to keep in touch with friends, and television is used to help the children and their families unwind. According to Science Daily, “1 in 5 young people regularly wake up in the night to send or check messages on social media.” Teenagers that do this are three times more likely to be tired at school, compared to those who do not log on a night.
Students that do not log on at night are also much happier. Studies have shown that females are more likely to log onto their social media accounts than boys leading to emotional issues, depression, and even suicide. Citing a study from 2015, Jamie Zelazny, Ph.D., RN, and assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine explains that “Teens who reported using social media sites more than 2 hours a day were much more likely to report poor mental health outcomes like distress and suicidal ideation”.
Unfortunately, these habits tend to form at a much younger age. The American Association of Pediatrics states that there should be “avoidance of screens for children under 18 months (except for video-chatting), and limits of 1 hour per day of high-quality programming for children up to the age of 5.”
Furthermore, excessive technology use also harms academic performance. Guidance Counselor, Mrs. Victoria DeSantis, expresses, “More children feel isolated, lonely, and they become apathetic about their studies when they spend excessive amounts time on the electronics.” Moving forward, when electronics are present, children develop the habit of switching between tasks. Michael Rich, the Executive Director of the Center of Media and Child Health in Boston states, “Children’s brains get rewarded for jumping to the next task rather than staying on task.” Multitasking can be beneficial, but certainly not when it distracts students from what is truly important. When a computer is near, it may serve as a distraction, even if the initial intent was for educational purposes.
Jacob L. Vigdor, an economics professor at Duke University, states “when left to themselves, children most often used home computers for entertainment instead of learning.” This means that adults must supervise their children to ensure that technology is being used for the right reasons. Moreover, children’s ability to manage emotions and self-esteem is also affected by technology. Oftentimes, children resort to technology when they feel upset or stressed out.
According to Mr. Wills, “Electronics provide us with immediate gratification and this ultimately results in increased anxiety and depression.” He recommends for students to go outside and connect with nature, by hiking or meditating, because using technology to escape can eventually become addictive.
Lastly, the physical health of children is also greatly affected. When children are spending more time using their electronics, they are also spending more time sitting and being mostly still. This can lead to long term problems, such as obesity and/or cardiovascular diseases. Physical Education teacher, Ms. Jessica O’Driscoll stresses the importance of physical health when she states, “you need your health to do anything and achieve anything. People who are healthy and in shape can fight off diseases and viruses better than those that have health issues and have not taken care of their bodies.” Ms. O’Driscoll advises students to go outside for a walk or run, if they feel uncomfortable doing this, they can also use their stairs.
With the pandemic, many activity options are limited, but young people need to be active indoors or outdoors rather than opting for video games and/or television. Exposure to blue and blue-green light (used in electronics), counteracts the melatonin creating process in the pineal gland. Melatonin is a hormone that helps people fall asleep at night. Mr. Wills explains, “The worst time to use electronics is before bed.” Children’s sleep tends to be more affected when they are exposed to blue light before sleep, compared to adults. The blue and blue-green light also bad for the eyes because it is known to cause nearsightedness, blindness, and eye strain. As a result, blue-light blocking glasses have become
popular and are available through many retailers.
Children have technology all around them and it is negatively impacting their mental health, physical health, and performance. Even electronics, whose primary purpose is for education, end up being a distraction to many young people. Using an electronic device requires children to be sitting, mostly still, and with education being forced into this sphere as a result of Covid-19, teens need to find ways to become more physically active and take a break from technology. Oftentimes they opt to play video games or binge-watch a Netflix show, rather than go outside for a jog. As expressed by Mr. Wills, technology needs to be used “only when necessary” and when used often as an escape, can become addictive. He advises students to “notice how you feel and to be social, but be social in person.”