What does the internet have to do with mental health? Well, that's a loaded question!
Let’s start here… its’ no surprise that we are not very far away from internet addiction becoming an actual disorder. There’s no denying the addictive nature of technology these days. We are constantly swiping across our phones, using Google, and treating any form of boredom with funny or informative videos. We can hardly sit silently or start a conversation with someone in a waiting room or in line for a cashier without quickly turning to our phones instead. Heaven forbid we ever leave home without it, we might as well have forgotten an appendage. Can we all just agree that it’s more common for us to be controlled by our phones than for us to be in control of them?
This IS a problem. It won’t be one day, it is right now.
Technology can be a very useful tool. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to access information to learn and grow, to reconnect with friends of old, to take pictures to share or to video chat with friends and family we are rarely able to see. What’s not so great, is to obsess over finding ALL the information, especially to the point of fear. We are researching symptoms and diagnosing ourselves with diseases of all kinds, we are reading news articles and watching video clips that breed fear and hostility and division. We are believing everything the internet has to offer as truth. This is a problem.
In addition, we are allowing our worth and value to be determined by likes, shares and comparisons. As adults, this is hard, but can you imagine all of the lies our children are exposed to and emerged in? This is their every day life. Every part of their day involves a temptation of some sort dinging at their fingertips. The temptation to post for attention, to consume themselves in taking the perfect selfie for a temporary fix in the form of a like, the desire to click on an inappropriate link that promises them excitement and fulfillment that is far beyond their years or what their eyes should EVER see.
The internet has taken the place of relationships. It allows us to dismiss people who are standing right in front of our faces. Whether it be a cashier, our 4 yr old in need of attention, or even our spouse. They talk, we swipe. We claim we can multitask, but we can’t. That is not the way our brains were designed. we can only do one thing well at a time. We are either going to choose to engage a real human or we are going to choose to swipe. When we begin to dismiss humans, we begin to diminish their value. We miss their problems, we miss their hurts, we miss giving them the gift of human connection, love and acceptance.
The question begs to be asked, why? Why do we do this when we all know the side effects of excessive technology use? Here’s the counselor answer….because excessive technology use is shrinking, literally shrinking, our prefrontal cortexes by a shocking amount of 10-20%! Not familiar with your prefrontal cortex? Let me fill you in on what this part, (which is not even fully developed until the early twenties…which is why kids need parents!) of your brain does…
* It allows us to see around corners
* It helps us with impulse control
* It helps us make rational decisions (unlike children)* It helps us with good judgment and decision making
* It helps with language, spatial learning and higher order functions
* It’s our base camp for empathy
Basically, with shrinking prefrontal cortexes what we can expect is a lot of lashing out, aggravation, loss of impulse control, a carefree attitude about consequences and a whole lot of selfishness and inability to resolve conflict and a quicker path to fear and anxiety. Long story short, we become a land of emotionally immature teenagers.
Let’s also keep in mind that our children are already trying to develop this part of their brain so the damage that is being done there I’m sure is alarming. Let me close with this, if this isn’t enough information to cause you to make some adjustments with the rules you have in your home and the boundaries you have with your own phone, then you are likely living proof of the damage excessive technology use can cause. Let’s take this seriously, my friends, let’s all calm down our brains, give them some rest and reconnect with our families and society.