Teens and Screens—Why Do Teens Love Screens So Much?

There is endless content online (ironic isn’t it!?!) about screens, internet use, gaming, safety, addiction, sleep deprivation, and how to set limits. So much content that a person (ME!) can spend hours on a screen just learning about how to deal with screens, so why write more?

At Heartmanity, we want to approach screens, tech, safety, limits, and the like through the understanding of emotional needs, relationships, empathy, compassion, brain science, and love, which are not common approaches used in most available content. So, that being said, let’s look at why teens love screens so much.Teenager texting and engaged in social mediaHumans are emotional beings. Research has proven that premise for years according to numerous social scientists. However, did you know that there is a condensed list of our basic human needs? It’s true, there is. 

Although these basic emotional needs might be worded differently by varying social scientists, the list we’ve found most helpful was compiled by Dr. Rudolph Dreikurs. These needs lay the foundation of the principles of the Redirecting Children’s Behavior philosophy (and the accompanying course  that we teach) and use when working with clients. Here’s the list below:

Basic Needs of Children and Teens (and even adults)

To feel and experience:

  • safety
  • love (give and receive)
  • a sense of belonging
  • power and influence in their lives
  • value and purpose (giving contribution as an adult)
  • To experiment and explore

Now, keep those needs in your mind for a few moments while we ponder some facts and history in the land of screens. 

A family together but everyone is on a screenLet’s face it, as a culture we believe screens are fun and informative; they have been since the first black and white TV hit the market in 1927. However, since the mainstream introduction of the personal computer in the 1980s, the creation of the worldwide web in 1990, and the release of the iPhone in 2007, the fun and informative nature of screens has taken a whole new shape.

Some facts to consider: 

According to popularity exhibited through the above research on tech ownership and its access, we can conclude that screens are not just fun and informative, they are awesome! Awesome? Yes: Awesome, fantastic, radical, wicked, legit! Don’t believe me? Well, when you get to the end of this sentence, stop reading and take 5-10 seconds and think of a time when a screen brought you joy. (You should be thinking not reading now.) 

Got that moment in mind? Now, attach some feelings to that experience.

Happy, connected, peaceful, calm, humored, relaxed, … and awesome, right?

Now let’s look again at all the awesome screen benefits in the context of emotional needs and the list of basic needs of children and teens.

To feel and experience:

  • safety
  • love (give and receive)
  • a sense of belonging
  • power and influence in their lives
  • value and purpose (giving contribution as an adult)
  • To experiment and explore

How many of the above needs would you say were fulfilled during that joy-filled screen moment you were just thinking of?

See? Screens create a meeting and gathering place for loved ones, a place to experience commonality on an awkward first date, an environment where the ‘real world’ can fall into the background, and the humor and events during screen time can be enjoyed and ‘felt’, a place where a connection via video, text, or photo from a loved one is shared, a place where sports fans can unite and be joyful in the win, a place where deep learning and amazing creatures and landscapes can be enjoyed, a technology that allows work, learning, and community to happen from almost any place in the world, and an endless link to services and goods.    

teenager-lay-on-the-floor-in-the-room-512624358_2128x1413-compressorWhat do you think are some of the feelings your children feel when they are on a screen? Don’t you think those emotional needs can be fulfilled?

You bet they can! And this fulfillment is one of the reasons (along with the feel-good drug Dopamine) that make technology and social media so addicting.

The makers of apps, programs, TV shows, games and so forth, know how their products fulfill these emotional needs. They’re designed for the user! When a product meets our needs, we use it. If it doesn’t, we chuck it.

  • The need to feel connected, loved, valuable, and to belong are met when a ping on our phone or computer lets us know that someone is thinking of us and contacting us.
  • The need to feel power, explore, and to belong are met when a teenager is working with (or against) other online gamers to take the enemy down, construct an imaginary world, or become the master of candies everywhere.
  • The need to experiment and explore is met when click-bait is followed and we read about a fresh discovery or when learning occurs as a student researches a school project.
  • The need to contribute or give love is met when a text, a note, photo, or video is shared.

Screens are part of the modern way of connecting.

Screens are a pathway through which connection, love, belonging, power, value, contribution, experimentation and exploration flow.  (Not to mention job security, college diplomas, and bulk school supply orders!)

The fulfillment of emotional needs is what makes screens so compelling for our children and teens (and ourselves). However, it is also because of this emotional fulfillment that they can be so frightening and damaging. And companies, predators, and even classmates can manipulate these needs as a gateway to exploitation.

At our house, sometimes we blow our tops over screens, but then I find myself so excited a text has come in, a picture has been posted, or I have mastered some version of online Scrabble™, and I remember the joys my children find in their screen activity. When I can be curious and empathetic about why they want to access social media or the latest app, I have a better understanding. When I see from my child's perspective more clearly, I can better know when and how to allow access while not jeopardizing our family values.

The goal is to hold fast to what is most precious to us, like face-to-face time with family and friends while also recognizing the needs that technology fulfills. We want to keep a healthy balance between screen time and quality time together, involvement in athletics, work habits, adventures and recreation, creative time, and downtime.

The irresistible pull of screens and social mediaThere is brain science around the dopamine pleasure path that relates to loving screens so much, but that's a topic for another blog.

So until next time, here are some questions to explore:

  • –What programs, apps, games, etc., does your teen use inordinately? 
  • Why does your teen like to be on these programs, apps, games, etc.? 
  • –Can empathy concerning why he/she is on technology help you solve the bigger question of how to manage your child’s screen time?

If possible, have a conversation with your teen and find out firsthand answers to the above questions. Ask him or her to show you what they do on their phones and computers and why.

And please leave your comments on the Heartmanity FB page about what you learn. Share how understanding and empathy change your perspective toward technology in your teen’s possession. Together, we can create healthy habits and keep our children safe!

Research and related reading:

Mobile Fact Sheet - http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/mobile/

The Statistic Portal: Number of households in the U.S. from 1960 to 2017 -https://www.statista.com/statistics/183635/number-of-households-in-the-us/ 

For more positive parenting tips or parenting articles to develop visionary parenting, check out Heartmanity's parenting resources.

Like the article? Help us spread the word and share it!

Britta Hubbard / Heartmanity ContributorBritta Hubbard / Heartmanity Contributor
Britta Hubbard has been a parent educator, working within the framework of Redirecting Children's Behavior, for four years. Conducting classes, introductory seminars, and over-the-phone sessions to help individuals with their parenting challenges. She has been a Middle School Family and Consumer Science teacher for six years empowering adolescents in personal development and financial education. Her work was featured in Dr. Harry Wong's First Days of School publications and presentations. In addition to these occupations, Britta Hubbard faces her own joys and challenges in navigating the demanding landscape of being a parent of two young boys. She currently lives on Colorado's Western Slope and spends as much time as possible drinking herbal tea with her husband, sons, family, and friends while gazing at the beauty of the world around her.

Posted in Perfectly Imperfect Parenting

Free Newsletter!