Teens, Technology and Coping

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Teens, Technology and Coping

Jim Windell

             It is true that many teenagers these days spend an unbelievable amount of time online and playing video games. But is the use of technology by adolescents a complete waste of time? Or can time spent using technology provide psychological benefits to teens?

              A study that comes from Griffith University in South East Queensland, Australia, took a look at teenagers and technology.

           The researchers provided iPhones to more than 200 adolescents living in low socioeconomic settings. The instructions given to the teens in the study was that they were to report on their technology use, stressors, and emotions five times a day for a week while using the iPhones exactly as they would use their personal smartphones. The data were used to compare the emotional states of adolescents who used technology moderately, excessively, or not at all when coping with stress.

           The results of this research revealed that adolescents who engaged with technology in moderation in the hours after a stressful situation bounced back more readily and experienced smaller surges in negative emotions – like sadness and worry – compared to adolescents who didn't use technology or who routinely used technology as a coping mechanism. The study was published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.

           Lead author Kathryn Modecki, who is with Griffith University's Menzies Health Institute and School of Applied Psychology, said that “Adolescents are smart, and they make use of technology to their own advantage.”

           Modecki went on to say that because adolescents in disadvantaged settings tend to have fewer local supports, the study sought to find out whether online engagement helped reduce their stress. “There has been a tendency to assume that technology use by teens is negative and harmful, but such a broad assumption isn't borne out by what we know about the developmental stage of adolescence,” she added.

           Modecki, furthermore, said that this research indicated that there was a “just-right Goldilocks' effect” in which moderate amounts of online coping helped mitigate surges in negative emotions and dips in happiness. “In the face of daily stressors, when adolescents engaged in emotional support seeking, they experienced better short-term stress relief,” she said.

           The results of this study suggest that cell phones and social media can help teens cope with stressful events -- as long as they strike the right balance between spending time online and pursuing other coping activities. The online space serves not just as a short-term distraction but as a resource for adolescents to find support and information about what is troubling them. This coping strategy becomes especially relevant for kids in low-income neighborhoods – particularly when they have ready means to access that information and support.

           To read the original article, find it with this reference:

Modecki, K.L., Duvenage, M., Uink, B., Barber, B.L. & Donovan, C.L. (2021). Adolescents’ Online Coping: When Less Is More but None Is Worse. Clinical Psychological Science; 216770262110289 DOI: 10.1177/21677026211028983

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