Written by Lisa Shaw, parentingtodayskids.com
What do five kids ranging in age from kindergarten to high school, a Harvard MBA, and years of protecting kids online get you? It gets you Lisa Shaw, COO of her very busy household and a Senior Director at SpectorSoft, the number one leader in monitoring and protecting your kids online. She’s an expert on the technology and trends that you need to arm yourself with to be the best parent you can be in today’s digital world.
If you have kids, you likely have computers, cell phones, and other gadgets in your home. You might worry about cyberbullying, sexting, or just plain distractions. Today’s children now have another risk when it comes to technology—increased chances for mental or emotional distress or even illness. Yes—that computer that aids in their education and that cell phone that helps you keep connected when you’re running late to pick up the kids—can also be the same tool that poses danger to self-esteem and puts your kids at increased risks for depression and anxiety.
How Does Technology Increase the Risk?
The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a report warning parents about the connection between technology use and increased incidences of depression and anxiety in children.
-Teens are playing games online, such as “Am I Pretty?” where they post pictures and videos of themselves and ask this question of complete strangers. They often do this for attention, but they have no control over the nasty, crude, and esteem-damaging comments viewers make.
-Cyberbullying has been responsible for depression and even suicide among teens. The unfettered and often anonymous teasing that happens online is overwhelming for children to bear and process.
-Even “fun” socializing can cause anxiety in teens. They watch who has more likes on Facebook, more friends, and gets more messages and comments. It is a virtual popularity contest that increases the stress level for many teens and tweens.
This isn’t to say that technology and social media should be banished from your home. Technology, for better or worse, is part of the environment and it does have many wonderful benefits. However, you don’t have to feel helpless. There are some practical ways parents can teach their kids to use technology that won’t put them at these increased risks.
-Don’t let kids use social media sites if they are younger than the suggested or approved minimum ages. For examples, Facebook is intended for those 13 years of age or older. This minimum is set because younger children are not equipped to handle all of the social implications and stresses that come from living in an open, viral world.
-Keep their passwords, and keep an eye on their technology use. If you notice that they are becoming secretive, that is the time to take a second look.
-Don’t hesitate to seek professional help for your child if you think he or she is exhibiting signs of depression or anxiety, especially right before or after using technology. Some telltale signs:
-Withdrawal from real world activities
-Withdrawal from real world relationships
-Frustration and worry when he or she can’t get to a computer to check messages
-Decline in school grades
-A change in your teen’s circle of friends or extra activities (i.e., used to play sports but has since quit the team)
Even though the research shows a strong link between technology and increases in depression and anxiety among teens and tweens, it is not clear if an increase in technology use is the cause or if children who are more prone to depression and anxiety are simply more vulnerable to the detrimental effects of technology. Either way, it is something that parents need to be aware of and ready to monitor.