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Technology and Youth

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The Ripple Effect of Technology
Troy Lindberg
DeVry University

The Ripple Effect of Technology
OMG Where’s My Phone!!
Figure 1 We have become so dependent on mobile phones that their loss certainly causes emotional and mental distress. (MIREVIEW, 2015)
Figure 1 We have become so dependent on mobile phones that their loss certainly causes emotional and mental distress. (MIREVIEW, 2015) Some people believe that technology is the best thing since sliced bread. It is so ingrained in people’s lives that most individuals’ believe that they couldn’t function without it. A testament of this would be the frantic reaction one gets when they believe that they have misplaced their phone. It resembles the reaction of a mother when her child has gone missing. We laugh at this analogy but the thought should be sobering enough to open your eyes. It has been found that the average teenager spends approximately 133 hours a month absorbed in some form of technology or social media (OAH, 2013). That is almost four and a half hours a day. What is the allure that keeps them returning as if it were an addiction? It’s this dependence that drives me to proclaim that technology is a detriment to the social development of youth. How did we get here?
Positive Development
Computers have been in existence since 1936 but it wasn’t until 1991, when Tim Berners Less came up with the World Wide Web, starting the computer revolution and computers as we know it. There is a plethora of information on the internet regarding the positive aspects of technology; it would be close minded to think that the sharing of knowledge by all of humanity is anything but positive. Dr Bers, a professor at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development, conducted a study that demonstrates how computers, if used as instrumental machines, can “lead youth to use technology to learn new things, express themselves in creative ways, communicate and take care of themselves and others, and contribute to society while developing their own sense of identity grounded on personal and moral values (Bers, Winter 2010).” Can I hear an “Amen?” This is exactly what every parent wants for their child. The problem is, though she demonstrates the positive influence that technology can provide to youth, the downfall to her deduction is that it requires education and involvement of all those that have influence in a child’s life. I’m on board and in total agreement with her thought process but in order to make it a reality; it will require a total rewiring of the way Americans look at technology. Unless everyone is on board it is simply a pipedream.
The Reality
Let’s face it, though the internet and most of the technologies have been around for almost 25 years, it wasn’t until the past decade that the technology revolution exploded and has become an integral part of society. With this said, as with any new invention, it takes time for any adverse effects to be recognized. Until something is done that gets societies attention we go on as if it’s business as usual. It has only been recently, over the past 15 years, that studies have been conducted on the sociological and psychological effects of technology on the youth.
Who’s to Blame?
It seems as if every time we turn on the television or check our social media, there is another situation regarding the delinquency of the younger generation. At one point or another, we have all asked ourselves, “What is wrong with the younger generation?” When we hear yet another news story regarding a child bullying another, or the abuse of social media by adolescence, initially, we want to blame the parents for their lack of foresight or discipline. You have probably even found yourself blaming the government for taking the power away from the parents and the schools. Though these may be contributors and have some bearing on the problem, they’re not the culprit for the antisocial behavior that we witness in today’s youth. From my own personal experience, I have found that technology and social media played a large role in the social development of my children. Like me, if you have found yourself at your wits end because you can’t seem to get your children to listen or worse, stop fighting, I’m here to tell you that it may not be your fault. Let me explain.
Generation X
As a proud member of generation X, I was raised in the transition phase of written based knowledge to digital knowledge archives. There were no cell phones or computers. Technology based entertainment or gaming system was in the form of either Pong or Atari. Needless to say, if you know anything about them, indoor activities got boring very quickly. With that said; outdoor activities were a sign of the times. Like every other kid of my generation, I ran the streets during the day and didn’t come home until the streets lights came on. Saturday morning consisted of me waking up before my mom, so that I could sneak in a couple hours of cartoons on our four channel television before she kicked me out to play for the rest of the day. This type of behavior was considered normal and encouraged by all parents. For my generation the primary mode of communicating with your friends was face to face, and occasionally a land line phone call, according to my mother, “as long as it wasn’t long distance.”
Generation Y
Let’s fast forward to the next generation of Generation Y, a.k.a. the Millennials or the “everybody get a trophy” generation. This just so happens to be my children’s generation and one of the primary sources for my viewpoint. Their generation prefers digital literacy as they grew up in a digital environment. They have never known a world without computers or technology! They get all their information and most of their socialization from the Internet. They communicate with each other through Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and any other form of social media that you can think of. For them, every form of entertainment is through some type of technology and they can spend hours doing it! They consider those that reject technology or abstain from daily interactions with social media a social pariah. We cannot blame them for their thought process, for it is all they know. It is for this reason that I have come to the conclusion that it is not the younger generation that has the social problems. It is the previous generations that must learn what the youth are up against so that we may mentor them with hope that they may adopt our social values into theirs.
The Conundrum
We all know that there will always be intergenerational differences, regardless of what generation you’re from, but the difference between X and Y is like night and day. You cannot deny that there was a technology explosion between the eras of the two generations. The advancement of technology was welcomed with open arms by both generations, but advancement was so quick that there was no time to contemplate its possible social and psychological ramifications to the younger generations. It is this conundrum that drives my argument that there is a direct correlation between technology and the social development of the youth.
What is Social Media?
At this point, based on the logic that I presented, I expect you are either with me or you need more convincing. The question of the day is, does the use of social media hamper social development of children? Before I answer this question, we must first explore what social media is, and what it was intended for. Social media was invented with the theory that it would connect the world via the internet. I imagine the engineer behind the invention had visions of world peace, based on the premise that it would bring the world together by opening the lines of communication around the globe; it negated the belief that your social boundaries were restricted to your local community. One could confidently say that every social engineer conceptualizes advancements in technology to improve lives, or to better humanity as a whole. Though there intentions are noble, one must wonder if they were so wrapped up in the positive aspect of their brainchild, if they ever consider the negative aspects of their invention.
Noble Idea or Curse?
Social media is a prime example of a social engineered advancement that was introduced with the noble intention to better our lives by opening a new era of communication. It connects all of humanity and proves that we are no longer limited to the social demographics of our local communities, but have a connection to the world right at our fingertips. Its shortcomings are that it missed its mark when considering how it might affect the social development of future generations. The problem is that its very existence defied what previous generations valued or believed to be relevant regarding social interaction such as the power of a cordial introduction accompanied by a handshake.
Lost Art of Communication
Figure 2 Foresters created the Tech Timeout™ challenge to encourage families to reconnect in a more meaningful way. (Babyspotca, 2014)
Figure 2 Foresters created the Tech Timeout™ challenge to encourage families to reconnect in a more meaningful way. (Babyspotca, 2014)
For those of us that grew up without technology and social media; we see the dismissal of the development of oral communication by the youth as a tragedy or lost art. We see the era of meeting someone with the use of oral communication by a cordial introduction of giving your name, and an extended hand to initiate personal contact with a handshake coming to an end. The introduction of oneself has changed from an open introduction of giving your name, to the use of a Twitter handle or pseudonym on Facebook, and using text message abbreviations, shortcuts and emoji’s to communicate. Is this enough? Are our youth doomed if we do not take action? It is observed that “digital natives, those that have always known technology, appear to possess less ability to demonstrate empathy, recognize social cues, focus for extended periods of time on one task or follow a linear thought without interruption” (Herman, 2012). I don’t know about you but this scares me to death. As a member of generation X, I firmly believe in the importance of oral communication. It is necessary in order to allow a person to effectively interact in personal and professional relationships.

Before I inundate you with facts to back my logic; let’s explore this a little more. At this point you should be in agreement that, though social media and technology has broadened our horizons and opened the world to new possibilities, it begs the question of whether technology hampers the youth, with regard to development of relationships and communication skills. Additionally, we can also agree that there are pros and cons to the use of social media and technology. It is my hope to not convince you of whether Technology and social media are good or bad, but to open your mind to the possibility that there may be a direct correlation between the use of social media and the social development of adolescence based on my own empirical data and supporting evidence…If logic is not enough; now for the facts.
Change in Social Patterns
Dr. Mesch, a highly recognized and world renowned sociologist in the field of social development of youth, purports that there has been a major change in the social patterns of adolescence over the past couple decades. He supports his claim with a study that shows “79% of young people between the ages 12-17 had sent messages to friends in the previous week using social networking sites, 69% had sent a text message, 56% had sent instant messages and 44% had sent emails (Mesch G. S., Fall 2012).” This behavior supports the fact that online communication has become an integral part of youth culture, thus causing a shift in the thought process of previous generations of how and what is important in the development of social skills. Even though the social patterns have changed, through the generations the social behaviors of youth are still the same with regard to harassment and bullying. Dr. Mesch addresses the correlation between the increased use of social media and cyber harassment and cyberbullying. He points out that “communication that lacks nonverbal cues, status symbols, and proximity to the victim may lead to lack of inhibition and negative perception of others, resulting in an increase in online bullying (Mesch G. S., Fall 2012).” This is just one of the reasons that foot stomps the importance of a well-balanced online and offline social lifestyle. A well-balanced social lifestyle is similar to a well-balanced diet; it is alright to eat even the worst of foods as long as it’s in moderation. The question is how do you find the balance?
Table 1
Table 1
(Center, 2012)
(Center, 2012) When one suggests to a parent that they should moderate their child’s interaction with media, they sometimes get offended and become defensive. They believe that your knowledge and depth of proficiency with regard to technology equals your success in the future. Though there is some truth to this thought process, it does not apply during all developmental stages of children, and moderation or balance of use could be more effective. Dr. Herman, author of Creating Balance in the New Age of technology suggests that, “Teachers and parents must understand the consequences of excessive interaction with technology on children and help them construct the ability to balance the instant gratification of technology with the minds deeper engagement in tasks of mental substance (Herman, 2012).” She proposes that there are two main brain development stages of children, age’s birth to six years, and between 11 and 13, lasting a few years. She suggests that during the second period is where the neural connections are the most influenced in adolescence. They are subjected to a use it or lose it scenario. It is in this stage that a teenager can lose up to 60% of their unused connections. It is after this stage that we are considered wired for the rest of our lives. Additionally, Dr Gary Small, director of UCLA’s Memory and Aging Research Center, points out the consequences of technology on a developing brain is “much more profound” than on mature subjects (Small, 2008). His colleges emphasize that “neurological development during adolescence could determine all future behavioral and cognitive processes (Dretzin & Rushkoff, 2010).” In essence, if teenagers do not develop effective interpersonal skills during this stage of development, they may take this inadequacy into adulthood.
What Can We Do?
As we discussed previously, in order to stop this train wreck, it requires the involvement and education of all individuals that have influence in a child’s life. I have also presented the generational difference between generation X and Y, when it comes to education in technology. If you haven’t already thought about it, generation X, are the instructors and are teaching generation Y. The two generations have completely different learning styles and because of this variance, “it is like the blind leading the blind.” Professor Allen and Nelson, Professors at North Carolina University, have devised a way to minimize the deficiencies and close the gap in these areas, by the way of education. They developed a graduate youth development course that educates professionals that work with youth and their families on understanding and using technology to close the communication gap between youth and adult. They explain “that in order for youth development professionals to positively impact the lives of the youth they serve, they must not only understand the various systems impacting a youth’s development, including digital systems, but they must also have the skills and ability to engage with youth throughout those systems (Allen & Nelson, 2013).” The theory behind their course is to allow educators to develop and leverage their social networks to achieve a more powerful learning experience. By doing so, will ultimately shrink the generational divide regarding communication.
One Team One Fight I would hope by this point that you are able to see the issues that the future generations are up against, and that you are in agreement that something needs to be done before our youth lose their humanity. As I stated previously it is not my intention to convince you of whether technology is good or bad, but to open your mind to the possibility that technology has a direct correlation in the psychological and social development of youth. Edmund Burk once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.” Technology is not necessarily evil but it represents a corrupt influence that may have nefarious results on the social development of our children. We must harmonize our thoughts and stand together collectively regarding educating everyone that has a role in our children’s lives. It will not be until we share a voice, and stand as one, that we will be able to save our children from themselves.

Allen, K., & Nelson, D. (2013, December). A Case Study on Integrating Social Media in an Online Graduate Youth Development Course. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching , Vol. 9(No. 4), 566-574.
Babyspotca. (2014, October 13). Giving Thanks to Your Family by Unplugging. Retrieved from
Bers, M. U. (Winter 2010). Beyond Computer Literacy: Supporting Youth's Positive Development Through Technology. New Directions for Youth Development, No 128, 13-23.
Center, P. R. (2012, September). Teen Fact Sheet. Retrieved from Pew Research Center:
Dretzin, R., & Rushkoff, D. (2010, February 2). Driven to Distraction. (Frontline, Interviewer) Boston.
Herman, J. M. (2012, Fall). Creating Balance in the New Age of Technology. Montessori Life, 36-43.
Mesch, G. S. (Fall 2012). Technology and youth. New direction for youth development (No. 135), 97-105.
MIREVIEW. (2015). Surviving Lost Phone Syndrome! Retrieved from Mobile Independent Review:
OAH. (2013, November). Teen Media Use Part 1 - Increasing and on the Move. Retrieved from Office of Adolscent Health:
Small, G. (2008, October 21). iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind. Retrieved from

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