According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2015, 73 percent of teens age 13 to 17 own or have access to a smartphone. Of those teens, 24 percent reported using the Internet on their cell phones “almost constantly,” while 56 percent reported going online several times a day.
While online, 89 percent of the teens surveyed said they were on at least one social media site; 71 percent reported using two or more social media sites. With teens spending so much time on social media, many are concerned about the academic, social and emotional impacts.
Ana Garcia, whose three sons and daughter, Reina Garcia, attend school in Falcon School District 49, said technology has helped her kids because it allows them to quickly access more resources. “The resources they have now are so much more helpful than what we had with going to the library and trying to find the right book,” she said.
Lexi Durham, a 2016 graduate from Vista Ridge High School in D 49, agreed and said technology overall can be helpful because it can make turning in assignments and getting work done much easier. The downside is that the phone interrupts her study time, she said.
“I would have to actively tell myself not to look at it when I was trying to study,” Durham said. “It would disrupt the mindset I had going, and I would get distracted. It would take a bit to get back into it. It made studying and homework take longer. Texting was the biggest distraction.”
Erinn Rynearson, a licensed professional counselor and junior counselor at Falcon High School in D 49, said even in the classroom, cell phones can dominate a teenager’s thoughts. They rush to the outlets and plug in their phone chargers to make sure they have enough battery life to get them through the rest of the day, she said. “Every outlet (in each classroom) every day is filled with chargers.”
Parents also text their kids at school. Rynearson said she understands the need for parents to know their kids whereabouts or to let them know of a change in the daily routine; nevertheless, it’s still a distraction.
In general, grades tend to be a reflection of how students spend their time and how much of that time is spent on their phones or other technology, Rynearson said.
Amber Soule, a junior in D 49, said it is more difficult for her academically using technology than it is through traditional teaching methods. “A lot of classes have you do the work online, and you do not get to see the teacher face-to-face about it,” she said.
Rynearson said technology offers positive results when it is used properly, which requires setting boundaries and structuring usage.
Since the Internet offers so much anonymity, the effects on a teen’s social skills can be positive and negative, Rynearson said. “You can say anything you want and there is no accountability,” she said. “Kids are able to be more vocal, but are they being the person they really are? Is that their true identity?”
Rynearson said teens will sometimes post on social media sites because they feel it is expected. “If you do not participate in this technology-driven world, you are an outcast,” she said.
Some teens find that their social life thrives with their access to the Internet, particularly social media. Reina Garcia., a junior in D 49, said she used to be more introverted before she got involved in social media. “I used to be really shy,” she said.
For other teens, social media exacerbates issues they might have with their peers. Durham said much of the drama she encountered in high school centered on social media. “People would reference a conflict with a friend (on social media) but not actually call them out directly,” she said. “The other person would know it was about them, and it just caused so much drama. It was kind of happening all the time.”
Soule agreed and said the fact that some sites require permission to participate automatically isolates others, which creates more drama. People go to those sites and talk about their peers who do not have access to the site, which has become a common way to spread rumors, she said.
“We all went through our teen years, and we got breaks from the rumors and picking on each other,” Rynearson said. “We could go home and forget about the rumor, then go back and deal with it the next day. For kids now, it is constant. They never get a break, and I think that is why we see so much stress and anxiety.”
Ana Garcia said that, while she noticed her daughter came out of her shell and gained confidence through her access to social media sites, she also noticed physical conflicts resulting from social media posts. Reina Garcia got into a physical brawl because of people arguing and cursing at each other on social media, she said. Additionally, other people who were not initially involved found their way into the conflict, causing it to grow out of proportion, Ana Garcia said.
Peer relationships are not the only ones to be affected by technology, Rynearson said. Familial relationships suffer when technology is not used appropriately.
Reina Garcia said her technology usage has affected her relationship with her family because she gets caught up in her phone activity and does not pay attention to her family.
Ana Garcia agreed. “Any time that we are somewhere doing something, she is always on her phone,” she said. “I think the quality time is not there.”
Rynearson said this generation of teenagers has become skilled at multi-tasking, in large part because of the constant presence of their cell phones. “They do not want to leave their phones, so they are listening to music on their phones while watching TV and texting,” she said.
But that multi-tasking has led to a host of other issues, including increased anxiety and stress, Rynearson said. Some kids actually have anxiety attacks when their parents try to limit their phone usage, she said.
Additionally, Rynearson said constant cell phone use among students often correlates to low self-esteem. “The more students are on their cell phones or computers, specifically on social media sites, the lower their self-esteem is,” she said.
“The majority of the signals the kids are getting are negative, from both their peers and from people they do not even know.”
Some teens have found that positive feedback from peers online has actually bolstered their self-esteem. “It makes it easier for me to feel good about myself,” Reina Garcia said. “Social media has helped me.”
Another source of anxiety in teens today is their desire for instant gratification, Rynearson said. Teens will reach out to their friends and get completely devastated if they do not hear back within 20 to 30 minutes, Rynearson said.
Teens craving nonstop contact with peers is often an indicator that their self-esteem is garnered from endless interactions, Rynearson said. This has led to some teens carrying multiple cell phones, she said. “Sometimes they have two or three phones, like one or two ‘burner’ (disposable) phones and their regular phone,” Rynearson said.
“It is a weird culture that parents are struggling to keep up with because it happened so fast.”