Does Technology Increase Teen Stress?

Today, it is rare to find a teen who doesn’t have a phone or Internet access. Parents might worry about the stress such technology brings to a teen’s life, and they should. Technology, despite its advantages, can interfere in a teen’s life in ways that bring considerable amounts of stress. Parents should stay informed on these issues and limit their teen’s access to technology when problems occur.

Social Stress

Gone are the days when a teen comes home from school and leaves it behind. Today, teens are always in a social environment, virtually if not physically. With smart phones, instant messaging and social networks, the social environment of the school has spread into the home. This means the social problems of teens often follow them home, causing mental stress when they should be relaxing or studying. In severe cases, school bullying can make its way online in the form of cyberbullying 3. In cyberbullying, bullies verbally harass their victims over the phone and Internet or spread rumors about their victims on social networks and websites. Because teens put increasingly more emphasis on their social status as they age, the stress that technology brings can often increase throughout high school.

Time Sinks

Technology companies design their technology to be fun to use, sometimes to the point where they draw users in for long periods. These new gadgets, websites and games often pull in teens, who lack the self-control of adults. After fooling around for what seems to be a brief time, teens might come back to the real world and realize that several hours have passed. Since performance in high school will directly influence acceptance into college, it is important for teens to dedicate a large amount of time to studying. However, the draw of technology can often give teens unneeded mental pressure, testing their self-regulation ability. This stress can have a negative impact on their grades.

Online Gaming

According to Jung-Hye Kwon, who wrote a chapter on adolescent Internet use in the book “Internet Addiction,” edited by Kimberly Young, approximately 50% of teens play games online. Online gaming, a form of entertainment that most people see as relaxing, can ironically cause stress in teens. Most online gaming is social, so it includes the complexities and stress of social situations. Within the online game, teens can exclude other teens from events or target them for attacks. Much online gaming is a power struggle, and teens who constantly find themselves on the losing side can feel frustrated with themselves. According to Lukas Blinka, an expert on online gaming addiction who also wrote a chapter in Young's book, though these games might only be mere distractions to adults, many children link these games and their ability to play them to their sense of self-efficacy. Through his research, Blinka found that many young online gamers attach their sense of personal success to the success of their online avatars.

The Reverse Situation

Another common link between stress and technology is one in the reverse direction: stress increasing technology use. In the introduction to her book, Young points out that when teens meet tremendous personal problems or undergo life-changing affairs, such as moving across country or witnessing a divorce between their parents, they might turn to technology as a coping device. Young states that for many teenagers going through tough problems in real-life, the Internet provides a virtual escape route. This type of distraction allows them to trade their real-world problems for virtual ones, such as overcoming the boss in a video game or making new friends online. The first few uses of technology as a momentary escape from the real world can spiral into a full-blown technology addiction, making the path from stress-to-technology potentially more dangerous than the reverse path.