Avoidance has been a coping mechanism for ages. But until electronic media was available, teenagers had to rely on other sources of entertainment. They are watching movies, playing, reading, spending time with friends, sporting, and so on. Things that helped them escape the disturbing reality, but that also had the potential to help them evolve. Imagination, interaction, physical health, social skills, culture, healthy emotional development are good things that could come from running away from their problems. Electronic media doesn’t do that. It’s just a vicious way to escape reality by denying it.
A new study led by BBRF Scientific Council member Deanna Barch, Ph.D., of Washington University, St. Louis comes with confirmed disturbing data: electronic media is strongly connected with teenagers’ mental health. Depression and anxiety come together when electronic media becomes their way of living. And it often does.
Studies made before said that the input electronic media has on mental health is reduced. But the new research says differently. Video gaming and video chatting trigger anxiety. Video-watching triggers depression.
4,139 children and their parents were included in the study. They answered questionnaires about how many hours per week, the child used various kinds of electronic media. Separately, parents filled questionnaires about their children’s behavior. Based on specialists’ analysis, the answers given led to the conclusion the depression is an inherent vice of electronic media use. It isn’t clear yet what is the alternation: does depression pulls teenagers towards excessive use of electronic media or vice versa? What is clear is that they potentiate one another.
Too much screen time in children
Dependence has many forms. Alcohol, drugs, sex, food, gambling, and the internet. They are all forms of addiction. They are appealing because they are rewarding. They make one feel like he can escape, forget, get numbed, create a better reality that makes you feel good about oneself. And when you get back, in reality, everything feels worst than before. And you need another shot of whatever helped you the last time. Only this time you need more. And the never-ending process takes the individual on the self-destruction path.
Control is the ultimate reward electronic media gives them. This is what differentiates it from the old coping mechanisms of teenagers: the power to generate and control illusion.
Games, chatting, watching videos gives the teenager the appearance of control over negative feelings through making decisions. When they play, they decide the game, and who they are, what is their weapon, their strategy. He never meets the other players. They are virtual realities just like him. When chatting, he can decide who he is, how smart, how funny, he has the feeling he is not vulnerable. Because, again, there is nobody there to see him. Just another virtual reality that he feels he can control. This triggers anxiety. He is impersonating a character, and he becomes eager for applause. Because the need for confirmation can’t be eluded, not even in electronic media. Electronic media is the perfect lie for approval.
Watching games is, again, a run for control. You just write down the search words, and a whole delusional world opens on the touch screen of the smartphone or the computer screen. And the teenager running from negative feelings gets what he needs: the tiny piece of fake reality that looks just like he wants in that next second. The only problem comes when he has to take his eyes from the screen and face the unbearable reality.
Is there something that can be done?
Negative feelings are one of the hardest lessons for the human being. She can never get used to pain and suffering. And when the source of pain can’t be named is the worst. Teenagers should learn that negative feelings are natural. That they come and go. They need to be guided to find the source of those feelings and to cope with it. Not run from it. At least, not in a virtual reality that they have the feeling they can control.