Don’t Blame Teens for Tech Addiction

by Erica Kuhlmann ‘22

A study done in 2018 reported that 50% of teenagers feel addicted to their phones, and this number has surely increased in recent years as COVID-19 lockdowns caused people to rely heavily on technology for connection with the outside world. Teens are told that they are addicted to their phones or the internet constantly, getting called lazy, stupid, weak, and shallow for relying on technology. 

The sad truth is that today’s teens never stood a chance against tech addiction. With an abundance of technology available to “babysit” our generation, many parents chose to let TV, video games, and apps raise their kids, meaning some never knew a time where they did not rely on technology as their only source of entertainment and connection. Additionally, with more parents becoming paranoid about issues like stranger danger, many kids were told that going outside and wandering around, the primary activity of their parents’ generation, is unsafe. 

School has also become increasingly tech-centric. Teens are spending all day on technology at school, coming home and spending more time on technology doing homework, and then relaxing on technology. Things that used to be considered separate pastimes, such as reading books, listening to music, studying, taking photos, and drawing, are increasingly digitized. Often these activities are cheaper and more accessible digitally than they would be otherwise, which makes it tempting to do as many daily pastimes as possible on a single device. While increased accessibility is a good thing, this type of structure can make teens feel like their phone encompasses their whole life. 

Additionally, social media sites are increasingly designed to be addictive, with developers intentionally attempting to trick and trap users into logging more time on their site. Teenagers are biologically more receptive to rewards than other age groups, and therefore more “reward-seeking”, and as the foremost users of social media and apps, they are the primary targets and victims of these predatory tactics, like constant notifications, endless scrolling, and hiding the device’s clock so users have a hard time telling how much time has passed. 

Today’s teens know better than anyone that they’re overly reliant on technology, and those who are genuinely addicted to their phones likely already know it. Unfortunately, overcoming this dependence is easier said than done, and admitting a tech addiction is more likely to provoke derision from parents and other adults than support or guidance. Rather than being treated as an individual character flaw, technology addiction needs to be treated like the societal problem that it is, so the root causes can be addressed and change can be made.