Children's Hospital Colorado
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Just Ask Children's


Teens and Technology

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How to manage your child's or teen’s technology use

Today, lives are increasingly intertwined with technology. For many adults it can be difficult to find a balance between the “real world” and the digital one. For millennials, a generation beset by digital innovation, it can be nearly impossible.

Children’s Colorado’s own Philip O’Donnell, PhD, a specialist in psychiatry and behavioral sciences, provides strategies for parents to help their children or teens achieve a healthy balance.

How does technology affect children?

For a lot of kids, technology can be disruptive and distracting. Many teens have the misconception that they can multi-task and perform well in multiple activities, simultaneously. This is never the case. Multi-tasking inhibits the ability to focus and do well on any single task.

Research also suggests that the specific type of light emitted by technology can have an affect on sleep duration and quality. Simple things like changing from an e-reader to an actual book before bedtime have been shown to dramatically improve sleep.

How can I promote physical activity for my “technologically inclined” child? 

Technology can be a great tool to promote physical activity. Things like Fitbits, the Wii and Xbox Kinect can help motivate more sedentary kids – especially during winter months when outdoor activity becomes more difficult.

These tools can give immediate feedback to users as they interact with them. This kind of positive reinforcement can encourage continued healthier lifestyle choices. Of course, it is also important to promote more traditional physical activities – the ones that get kids outside and away from technology as often as possible.

Constant use of technology can decrease attention span. How can I help my child concentrate?

A boy wearing a gray sweatshirt sits at a computer using the mouse while a man in a navy blue shirt sits next to him watching.
It can be challenging for teens to find balance between the "real world" and the digital one.

Each kid is different and learns in his own way. One child may learn more effectively when listening to loud music, while others prefer absolute silence.

To help your child, you need to help him or her build good habits around study from a young age. Pay close attention to the environment in which he or she performs best, and then provide him or her with the right amount of sensory input moving forward.

It is also important to create clear boundaries between time meant for study and time meant for leisure, and reduce any unnecessary distractions in the study environment.

What is the greatest benefit that you see from technology?

Technology gives us great ways to gather information and reinforce skills. For example, we are developing ways to use tablets and iPads here at Children’s Hospital Colorado to teach kids coping skills and how to self-manage his or her anxiety or depression.

Because technology is so deeply ingrained into a modern child’s life, using these same innovative tools to educate can be more impactful.

Can “mindfulness” ease some of the problems linked to excessive technology use?

In general, mindfulness is about awareness of one’s experiences, in the moment. This awareness can be difficult to achieve when video games, social media or other activities with technology are a constant distraction.

Children's Colorado provides treatment for inpatient kids with anxiety, depression and other mental and emotional disorders including a daily relaxation group that teaches different mindfulness and self-awareness skills.

It is beneficial for kids to learn how to center and focus. If they can incorporate mindfulness into their daily practice they can become more aware of what is going on internally and not be so overwhelmed by intense feelings they’re having.

Our programs also incorporate creative arts therapies. We use art, music, dance and yoga to help kids learn different ways to calm their minds and bodies.

Get more ideas about how to help teens balance technology use.

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