In 2021, news spread about “TikTok Tics,” a social contagion spreading among young people. During the COVID-19 pandemic, kids were spending massive amounts of time on social media, and many of them, especially girls, were picking up involuntary tics from TikTok influencers with Tourette syndrome or similar tics. For many concerned adults, this was the first time they were confronted with the reality that technology is indeed affecting the younger generation. We must wonder, then, how else is technology negatively impacting us? Let’s explore some ways.
- Physically – Being hunched over a device for a long period of time can definitely lead to poor posture as well as neck and back soreness. But the physical effects of device use extend far beyond the obvious. Staring at a screen for long periods of time can cause eye strain, and the blue light from screens that stimulates the brain can affect one’s ability to fall asleep. Increased tech usage may decrease physical activity, which can lead to obesity and other health issues.
- Emotionally – Social media use has been linked to increased anxiety and depression. We worry if our posts will get reactions, if someone will leave a mean comment, or if something we said may cause us to lose followers. Being exposed to others’ perfectly curated social media lives can make us jealous of people we think are prettier, healthier, funnier, and richer than we are. Social media becomes one big popularity contest in which we are competing for the most likes, views, and followers. This can all be very harmful for our mental and emotional health.
- Relationally – During the pandemic lockdowns, technology provided the only means for many friends and family to remain connected, through means such as texting, chatting, or Zoom sessions. This is one way that technology can be a blessing, that it can help maintain relationships at a long distance or during difficult circumstances. However, technology—especially social media—can also be a curse. One of the promises of social media—whether stated or implied—is that it can instantly connect us to millions of people around the world. While this is true, a connection is not the same as a relationship. Online connections are fleeting. How many people on your list of followers would you consider a true friend who would be there for you no matter what? The truth about social media is that instead of satisfying our need for human relationships, its use actually makes us feel lonelier and more isolated. Followers are nice, but friends and family are necessary.
- Cyberbullying – Bullying has existed long before the Internet. Decades ago, bullies may have pestered you at school or the playground, but at least you could be safe at home. Nowadays, bullies can follow you everywhere. Kids are harassed through text, chat, social media, or any other online platform. Thanks to the Internet, there’s literally no escape from bullies. What’s worse, since cyberbullying happens behind a screen, parents may not even know it’s happening. Physical bullying may leave observable cuts and bruises, but cyberbullying is invisible. It’s mental and emotional. Sometimes, friends and family won’t know it’s occurring until it’s too late, as unchecked bullying can lead to suicide.
- Our view of the world – One would think that the Internet would expand our horizons to new ideas and beliefs. Instead, it allows us to confine ourselves into ever-shrinking bubbles. Why? Social media allows us to find groups, friends, and followers who share the exact hobbies and views that we have, no matter where they live in the world. On one hand, this is great, especially if there is no one in your local area who shares the same interests as you. The problem, however, is that we can completely isolate ourselves from people with different beliefs and values. Think about the real world: We can’t curate who our family, neighbors, coworkers, and classmates are. For better or worse, we have to put up with the people we interact with in life and develop true tolerance if those people don’t share the same ideas as we do. Social media eliminates that. It places us into bubbles and echo chambers filled with only the ideas and messages we want to receive. The Internet and social media specifically don’t make our horizons larger, it makes them smaller.
- Our character – Social media is making us angrier. It’s much easier to anonymously say nasty things to a person hundreds of miles away from behind a computer screen, as opposed to a person right in front of you. Even if we aren’t the ones making nasty comments to strangers, reading and viewing negativity is going to affect us as well. Also, content creators promote whatever gets them attention. If it’s anger and outrage, so be it. Sadly, people are profiting off of others’ anger, and society is suffering because of it.
- Bad influences – There are people online with huge audiences who are literally called “social media influencers.” They want to sell you a product, to introduce you to the latest trend, or to shape the way you think. They aren’t hiding the fact that they want to influence you and others. These people’s messages can be silly and innocent or they can be harmful and hateful. We need to be very careful who we allow to influence us and our children.
Since excessive tech use has so many harmful effects, is the solution to just give up technology altogether? Of course not. Tech can be wonderful when used properly. And, like any tool, it can be devastating when used improperly. Here are a few pointers to avoid the negative effects of tech listed above:
- Limits and boundaries – If you are a parent, limit the amount of time your child spends on devices. This can be a set amount of time each day or a tech curfew at a certain time each night. Have family tech-free evenings where you spend time together doing something screen-free, like riding bikes around the neighborhood or playing board games.
Not only should parents limit when devices are used, they should also set boundaries for where devices are allowed. It is important to know what content your child is consuming, so consider only allowing devices in common living areas and not in private areas like bedrooms (or the bathroom). Some families have a device drawer into which their children deposit their phones upon coming home and retrieve upon leaving. Some parents keep their children’s devices with them or in their bedroom every evening. Determine what works best for your and your family and stick to it.
This advice isn’t limited to parents and their kids, however. Adults also suffer the effects of unchecked tech use. While adults should be mature enough to know appropriate limits and boundaries, this is not always the case. Adults also typically do not have an authority figure monitoring their device use. If you need help controlling your tech habits, consider having an accountability partner the same way you may have a gym buddy who inspires you to eat healthy and not skip workouts.
- Be self-reflective – We’ve seen that social media can increase feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression. You need to consciously monitor your mental and emotional health to see if tech is negatively affecting you. If so, take steps to remedy this. Maybe you need to set time limits, as mentioned above. Or, perhaps you need to limit which platforms you use, as not all social media platforms are the same.
- Foster real-world relationships – It seems harder and harder to make meaningful, real-world connections, but we need healthy relationships. Find ways to intentionally make new friends or spend time with the ones you have. Use social media as a tool to discover new local friends or interest groups and meet up in real life (in a safe, public environment, of course). Also, when you are with friends and family, put down your phone and enjoy their company.
Technology can be a wonderful tool that makes our lives better, or it can be destructive to our relationships and mental health. We need to be mindful of how it is affecting us and others. If you see it negatively impacting you or your children, consider following some of the tips listed above. Or, be proactive and implement limits and boundaries now to prevent problems before they arise.