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Teen Technology Addiction Treatment

Understanding Technology Addiction in Middle School Girls: A Guide for Parents

Younger generations are considered “digital natives,” who have grown up relying on technology to meet their everyday needs. Meanwhile, parents are experiencing growing concerns about the effect that their reliance on technology has had on their social lives, self-esteem, and academic performance. 

Many kids chalk it up to generational differences in how socially acceptable it is to be glued to a screen, yet, most teenagers agree that technology addiction is real. Between endless scrolling, comparing oneself to others, fear of missing out, and escaping into a virtual world, technology addiction can affect teen’s mental health in a variety of ways.

It can be difficult to differentiate between technology abuse and addiction, but if you are worried about how your daughter’s technology is affecting her wellbeing and relationships, there is help available. 

The guide is meant to be comprehensive, but as such, not every section will be applicable to everyone. Instead, we invite you to click on the links in the table of contents to jump to the sections that most interest you.

Table of Contents

What is Technology Addiction?

What makes technology addiction scary is that it’s normalized. Because smartphones, social media, and other technological advances are new, it’s been hard to see the consequences until recently. Signs of technology addiction are similar to any other kind of behavioral addiction and should be treated as such, rather than as a problem with abusing the privilege of technology. Excessive technology use may be the first indicator that your teen may be struggling with technology addiction, but it is not necessarily the defining characteristic.

Signs of Technology Addiction

  • Impaired control over technology use (frequency, intensity, duration)
  • Increased priority given to technology over other interests
  • Continuation or escalation of technology use despite negative consequences
  • Increased interpersonal conflict or social withdrawal
  • Distress when access to technology is limited

Types of Technology Addiction

The type of device your child spends the most time on doesn’t necessarily change how screen time effects them. Technology addiction isn’t about how much time they spend online or the ways they fill their time online, but rather the way they feel while scrolling or when they’re asked to put their device away. 

  • Social Media Addiction. When people point out the potential harm associated with social media, like chasing validation through likes, comparing your lifestyle and accomplishments to others, and presenting your best self online, people may believe that is exactly why they find social media attractive. This can make it hard for people to accept the effect social media can have on self-esteem. Teens who are highly active on social media are also vulnerable to cyberbullying and other online safety issues.
  • Cell Phone Addiction. A  recent poll that found that more than fifty percent of teens feel they are addicted to their cell phone (and that two-thirds of parents agree)! Many young people view their cell phone as their lifeline and prefer socializing online than engaging in face-to-face interactions, particularly at home. While cell phones are useful for a variety of reasons, young users are vulnerable to getting attached to notifications and scrolling to the point where it can compromise being present offline.
  • Gaming Disorder. While social media and cell phones are now seen as an integral part of socializing in the 21st century, one of the biggest concerns parents have about technology is the amount of time their child spends playing video games–often instead of doing homework or going to bed at a reasonable time. Especially as many video games are now available on smartphones, there is a thin line between playing games with friends and becoming addicted to a particular game.

Is Every Teen Addicted to Screens?

Teens report, on average, spending about twice as much time online as they do outside a week. Around 90% of high schoolers have some type of smartphone, with around 75% claiming that they check their phone at least once an hour. Compared to other behavioral addictions, there is more of a grey area with technology abuse as, at first glance, it may seem like every teen is addicted to screens. However, technology use affects all teens differently. Teens with existing mental health issues are more prone to technology addiction.

When working with this age group, it is important for people in the mental health field to learn more about how media influences teen culture. For example, recognizing that this generation grew up communicating through emojis, memes, and humor helps when trying to connect with them on their terms, and can also explain why they’ve struggled to communicate as openly offline. 

Consequences of Technology Addiction

  • How Does Social Media Affect Self Esteem? Social media encourages people to present the best versions of themselves and censor difficulties they may be having in real life. Based on this, girls often justify their self-worth by the number of likes or followers they have online, which fluctuates all the time. In a recent survey, nearly 74 percent of girls agreed that other girls tried to make themselves look “cooler than they are” on social networking sites. This only adds to the already high expectations many middle schoolers put on themselves and the insecurity they feel about “just being themselves.”. 
  • How is Social Media Related to Social Anxiety? Teens who struggle with social anxiety or fitting in at school may find it easier to socialize online, where they are more in control of their interactions and have the opportunity to reinvent themselves. For some, social media can be a tool for them to connect with others and to stay up-to-date with their acquaintances without having to socialize in person. Even when hanging out with others in person, they may pull out their phone and scroll through social media for conversation topics. Often, the connections they form online are more superficial than offline relationships. Many teens also struggle with social media-related anxiety based on a fear of missing out if they log off.  
  • How Does Screen Time Affect School Performance? Technology can be used as a tool for studying, but it can also serve as a distraction from developing solid study habits. Studies suggest that even the presence of a smartphone can affect cognitive processing when trying to complete other tasks. As more schools are introducing technology in classrooms, it becomes harder for teens to unplug and pay attention. 

When Does Your Teen Need Treatment for Technology Addiction?

Treatment for technology addiction is recommended for teens whose technology use has interfered with their daily functioning. Therapy for technology addiction focuses on the negative consequences, like self-esteem issues, relationship issues, and loneliness, more than discipline and self-control regarding screen time. The most effective form of treatment for teens involves family therapy in order to help families set boundaries, resolve conflict and learn how to better support their struggling teen.

Ways You Can Encourage Mindful Technology Use

Setting limits around technology use doesn’t always work, especially as it’s become so intertwined with our daily lives. Many parents struggle with screen time anxiety and worry about the addictiveness of technology, even if their child makes relatively positive choices around screen time. Installing parental controls on your child’s phone, reading their messages, or taking it away for extended periods of time doesn’t teach them how to have a healthier relationship with technology. Instead, it may teach them that that they have to be sneaky or that they don’t deserve privacy. 

  • Build Trust. Teenagers want to be trusted as mature and responsible adults. Asking for their passwords or checking their messages can be perceived as an invasion of privacy. Emphasize that you trust they are being responsible with their internet use, but encourage them to be mindful about what they post and who they connect with. Suggest creating a private profile. Remind them that anything they post is permanent, even if they have deleted it.
  • Talk about the pros and cons of social media. Listen to her opinion. Acknowledge that perceptions of social media may be different for your generation than hers. When used appropriately, social media brings together people with similar interests, reduces loneliness, and helps communities stay in touch. Express your fears about its effect on her body image, socialization, and perception of romantic relationships. Talk about the risk of cyberbullying, predators, and hacking as possibilities and ways she can be more safe online.
  • Limit time spent using technology. Restricting internet access is impossible when it is used in classrooms and as a primary form of communication. It is easier for teenagers to follow suggestions than rules as it gives them room to feel like they’re making their own decisions. Instead of threatening taking away their phone or computer for a period of time as a punishment, suggest time doing activities that do not require technology. Suggest charging their phone outside their bedroom at night or putting it in a different room while doing homework. Set up a plan with limited data allowance to teach them responsibility and show them how to monitor their usage so that they can self-adjust.
  • Role model a healthy relationship with screens. Encourage watching TV shows together or putting away phones at the dinner table. Make your own social media accounts and follow your daughter. Instead of using it to monitor what she is posting, post positive things that she is likely to see. Follow accounts that discuss relevant issues in self-esteem, parenting, and things your daughter is interested in so that you can talk about things you’ve read together. Show her how you use your time online to learn new skills, follow news, and answer questions you’re interested in.

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Types of Therapy 

Every person’s individual treatment plan depends on a variety of factors, especially as technology abuse is often a symptom of other issues. At Asheville Academy, we have one Licensed Masters Level Professional for every 6 – 8 students. While treatment is individualized, our therapists use a combination of:

  • Experiential Therapy: One of the biggest challenges teens face in overcoming technology addiction is replacing technology with healthier social activities. Recreation activities can help teens discover new interests that can serve as coping mechanisms and are a healthier way of forming bonds with others than liking each other’s posts. Experiential modalities also help girls put strategies into immediate practice.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) focuses on changing unhealthy behaviors by bringing awareness to mind and body connections and helping students regulate their emotions.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (DBT) focuses on changing belief systems that reinforce continued technology abuse, often related to self-esteem and goals.
  • Motivational Interviewing is used to increase student’s motivation and help them make a commitment to change unhealthy behaviors by identifying personal values and setting personal goals.

 

Get Help For Your Daughter Today

Compassion-Focused Therapy

All of our therapists take a person-centered, strengths-based approach to working with young people

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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy involves identifying negative beliefs that contribute to feelings of anxiety, discussing how those beliefs have been shaped, and challenging those negative thoughts

Read More

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy teaches students a variety of coping skills to apply to different situations

Read More

Neurofeedback

Neurofeedback targets brain waves in order to regulate brain activity and improve executive functioning

Read More

Animal therapy

Animal therapy is offered on campus with horses and other barn animals where students practice regulating their emotions in order to connect with the animals

Read More

Group Therapy

Group Therapy helps students practice relationship skills, like active listening and effective communication, and develop close relationships with their peers, which helps reduce social anxiety

Read More

Play Therapy

Play Therapy is a useful intervention for this age group to help them express themselves in creative ways–through activities in individual sessions and gteam building games

Read More

Family Systems Therapy

Family Systems Therapy addresses how your child’s anxiety has been influenced by and has impacted your family dynamic

Read More

Compassion-Focused Therapy

All of our therapists take a person-centered, strengths-based approach to working with young people

READ MORE

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy involves identifying negative beliefs that contribute to feelings of anxiety, discussing how those beliefs have been shaped, and challenging those negative thoughts

READ MORE

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy teaches students a variety of coping skills to apply to different situations

READ MORE

Neurofeedback

Neurofeedback targets brain waves in order to regulate brain activity and improve executive functioning

READ MORE

Animal therapy

Animal therapy is offered on campus with horses and other barn animals where students practice regulating their emotions in order to connect with the animals

READ MORE

Group Therapy

Group Therapy helps students practice relationship skills, like active listening and effective communication, and develop close relationships with their peers, which helps reduce social anxiety

READ MORE

Play Therapy

Play Therapy is a useful intervention for this age group to help them express themselves in creative ways–through activities in individual sessions and gteam building games

READ MORE

Family Systems

Family Systems Therapy addresses how your child’s anxiety has been influenced by and has impacted your family dynamic

READ MORE

Therapeutic Goals

  • Identifying personal strengths and interests
  • Building confidence and self-esteem
  • Improving family or social relationships
  • Taking personal responsibility for behaviors and the effect it may have on others
  • Working with others as a team 
  • Reaching out to others for support

How Do Therapeutic Boarding Schools, like Asheville Academy, Help Girls Struggling with Technology Addiction?

As a therapeutic boarding school, staff at Asheville Academy recognize both the pros and cons of technology use among this age group. While students don’t have access to their personal smartphones on campus, they are not restricted from all media use. 

Laptops are integrated into the classroom, students can make phone calls to friends and family, movies are watched in a group setting, and video games are earned as a privilege. 

We believe that it is important to teach young girls how to look to alternative activities to socialize and to learn through experiences, rather than just relying on technology to meet their every need. 

With distance from social media, students have more time to focus on who they are and who they want to be offline and have more time to dedicate themselves to academic goals, relationships, personal growth, and other recreation activities.  






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