We’ve written before about both the negative and potential positive aspects of technology at our fingertips. Despite the breadth of possibility that our smartphones offer, most of us use them to stay in touch with our social circles. Or, perhaps to put it more honestly, to spy and eavesdrop on the rest of the world, to compare our lives with theirs and to take notes of things we want to do. This kind of social window-shopping, of comparison of our daily lives to the lives of others (often hand-selected to reflect their best moments), can lead to envy or even a negative self-image. We may also have a desire to stay up-to-date on everything occurring in the world. We may ‘fear missing out’ which is a problem perhaps most visible in adolescents.
It is cliché to say adolescents are entering a potentially awkward time of social transition in their lives but it is so very true. New social dynamics, attraction to the opposite sex and hormones are just some of the many changes that occur during this stage of development and growth. Many of us grew up during a time before smartphones and technology. Some of us didn’t even have computers while others of us spent our teenage years on instant messengers. If we are to honestly reflect back (for those of us that this applies to), we might acknowledge the power these instant messaging applications had over our lives. I can personally admit to rushing homes many times after school simply to log onto my computer and talk to my friends. Today’s technology and social media has significant power over the lives of all of us but maybe especially adolescents. To grow up in today’s world is to grow up in a world of hyper-connectivity where your every triumph, mistake and embarrassment can (and likely will) be broadcast online.
Considering all of this, it is no wonder that adolescents today are glued to their smartphones and technology. It is a critical element in navigating the social minefield of adolescence. While technology can certainly lead to problems there is an effort to utilize this technology for our improved mental health.
A good night’s sleep is often the difference between a productive day of being alert, present and aware and a day of feeling down, lethargic and simply off. The necessity and benefits of a good nights rest are probably even more important during adolescence. Yet, as we’ve already discussed, the consistent pressure of social media and fear of missing out lead to evenings when a good night’s rest is sacrificed to stay connected to friends, friends-of-friends and even complete strangers. Through the technology of social media, there is an effort to teach adolescents about the importance of sleep and to encourage healthy sleeping habits.
One effort is an app called Sleep Ninja that is designed to help teenagers between the ages of 12-16 get a better night’s rest. The app presents itself as a messenger app that provides short tips that are clinically understood to help promote a better night’s rest. The goal is to educate young teens on the importance and benefit of a good night’s rest. The challenge here, as with all mental health interventions, is getting the target audience to utilize the intervention. Regardless of whether this particularly app succeeds or fails, the idea of using social media and technology to assist in improving behavioral and even physical health and wellness is worthwhile.
Adolescents, of course, know so much more about the world than adults, right? These attempts at social media manipulation to assist in promoting wellness are often met by adolescents with skepticism. This skepticism is further reinforced when finding someone who agrees with your viewpoint is a simple search away. Thus our technology, like all inventions, present as a double-edged sword, both positive and negative, nurturing and destructive. The same technology and tools that create that fear of missing out or being somewhat less than, can also help us get a better night’s rest or improve wellness in other ways. While this Sleep Ninja is a potentially positive step in the direction of helping teenagers get a better night’s rest, it also adds to our responsibility as adults guiding the use of technology for the adolescents in our care. Perhaps through awareness, education and conversation, we can help our youth recognize the line between being connected with friends and being addicted to technology. Hopefully, development of new engaging apps can lead to increased usefulness of social media and technology towards a healthier, happier life.