The 21st-century teen often seems surgically attached to their smartphone or computer, swiping and typing away. This phenomenon has led many to believe that today’s teens are “addicted” to their screens. This mistaken belief is not only wrong but also harmful, oversimplifying the intricacies of adolescent growth and their use of technology.
The Stigma of “Addiction”
Labeling teens as “addicted” carries a weighty stigma, painting them as helpless or devoid of self-control. This perception can create a vicious cycle, perpetuating lower expectations from adults, including parents and teachers, who begin to see technology as an enemy rather than a tool. Teens, sensing this mistrust, may withdraw further into their screens, widening the communication gap.
“Now, especially in a time of COVID, teens need this connection, rather a lifeline, to the world around them… Taking away their phone or limiting access to the internet will create a culture of secrecy, and those tough conversations will be difficult to have.” ~ Lainie Liberti – Seen, Heard & Understood.
Much of the belief that teens are addicted to their screens comes from research that’s taken out of context or sensationalized. Studies claiming teens spend an “alarming” amount of time online often overlook the fact that the digital world is now an essential educational and social landscape. With virtual classrooms and online resources, screen time is not merely leisure but often a requirement.
The Positive Side of Screen Time
Contrary to popular belief, the internet offers numerous opportunities for growth and learning. Platforms like YouTube host educational channels, and social media can serve as a vehicle for activism, connection, and even support for mental health. Social media giant TikTok became a safe place for hundreds of millions of teens and young adults during the first few lockdowns, with trends and shared spaces allowing those around the world to feel a part of a community, even when our community was further apart than ever before.
When guided properly, screen time can be an enriching experience that prepares teens for the technological demands of the modern world.
The Harm in Oversimplification
Classifying all screen time as bad is an oversimplification that ignores nuance. Not all time spent on screens is created equal. Playing a mindless game is different from researching a school project or connecting with friends and family. By labeling teens as “addicted,” we risk curbing their ability to discern the useful from the frivolous in the digital world.
“You can absolutely find countless expert opinions arguing the dangers of screen addiction causing out-of-control social anxiety, poor self image, and even depression. However, some experts believe playing video games, being active on social media, and excessive screentime is a way of coping with social anxiety, depression, and feeling of lack of control in ones life.” ~ Lainie Liberti – Seen, Heard & Understood.
Rather than stigmatizing screen time, parents and educators should help teens navigate the digital world. Simple strategies can be effective: discussing online habits openly, setting examples, and encouraging offline activities where possible. Acknowledging the benefits and potential drawbacks of technology can empower teens to make informed decisions.
In the Grand Scheme of Things
The notion that teens are addicted to screens is both inaccurate and damaging. Rather than falling into a trap of generational finger-pointing, it’s crucial to recognize the complexity of the digital landscape that today’s teens are navigating. By shifting away from the label of “addiction,” we can focus on fostering a healthier, more nuanced relationship with technology. This balanced approach is far more constructive than perpetuating a myth that serves no one.
By understanding that screen time is not the enemy but a tool, w e can free ourselves from harmful misconceptions and better guide the next generation into the digital age.