Technology isn’t good nor bad – it just is. In that way, it is like books. Books aren’t inherently better than computers or other technologies. For instance, Adolf Hitler wrote Mein Kampf….not the most wholesome book! Just as there are countless benefits to technology, there are countless ways that it can be harmful as well. As parents, we have legitimate concerns about kids’ technology use.
One thing we do know about technology is that it is not a panacea. Although it is extremely powerful and allows us to do a great many things better than we could in the past (e.g., connect with friends, increase productivity, play incredibly engaging games), we are not any happier as a society. In fact, some research suggests that levels of happiness in the U.S. are dipping over the past few years. This isn’t to say that technology is necessarily the cause of decreased (or flat) levels of happiness over time, it’s just that, with all of the continuously increasing power, freedom, social connections, and fun that technology affords us, we don’t see that translate into large increases in daily happiness.
Why Doesn’t Technology Make Us a LOT Happier?
I think there are two main reasons that the power, freedom, and fun that technology provides doesn’t translate into greater levels of societal happiness.
- Hedonic adaptation. We are adaptive creatures and that means we adapt to things that make us happy relatively quickly. So, whether we get a new car, ultra high-definition TV, Apple Watch, or win the lottery, our level of happiness will return to our baseline (standard or default) level of happiness fairly quickly. We can reflect on our own experiences to see the truth in this – how long did that new car really make us happy? Or the new model of iPhone? Not that long. Although technology provides a countless number of ways to increase our happiness, we have adapted to those such that we don’t actually feel happier overall then when we did prior to having the technological advances.
- Since technology powerfully affords us levels of power, freedom, social connection, and fun that we’ve never experienced before, the potential dangers and pitfalls are also inherent in this technology. We can’t have only the benefits without the pitfalls. Thus, to some extent, the positives and negatives cancel each other out to leave our happiness level back where it started.
What Does Growing Up to Be “Successful” Mean?
The ways in which technology affects our children – both positively and negatively – is critically important to us as parents. We all want what is “best” for our children. We want them to be successful in life. This begs the question of what we even mean by “successful?” Many parents may dream of (or be obsessed by) an Ivy League education and a prestigious job in fields such as law, medicine, finance, or the tech industry for their child. However, I think most parents, when pressed, will define true “success” differently.
Most of us parents will agree that our child grows up to be successful if he/she:
- Becomes “independent”
- Is not financially dependent upon us as parents
- Has a network of friends/positive relationships
- Becomes a good partner/spouse/parent
- Contributes positively to society (or at least not negatively!)
- Is able to self-regulate
- Makes healthy life choices (e.g., sleep, exercise, nutrition)
- Is able to love others and be loved by others
- Is happy
My wife and I will be exceptionally pleased (and relieved!) if our three boys are able to achieve the items on this list! When we take a look at the potential harms that our kids can experience with technology use, there are valid reasons to be concerned. Along with the great power, freedom, social connection, and fun afforded to us by technology in its countless forms, there are a number of potential pitfalls.
Areas of Concern for Kids’ Technology Use
- Video game violence
- Texting while driving
- Excessive screen time
Of course, some of areas are more of a concern at one at age range than another. Fortunately, parents don’t have to worry about their toddlers texting and driving! Although this is not an exhaustive list of concerns, these are some of the main ones. However, there is a greater, more insidious area of concern that affects us all that I will tackle in my next blog.