Technology as a tool, I believe, acts like a mirror, revealing and magnifying what is already inside. If Megan hadn’t already been worried about her looks, she wouldn’t have cared about a random picture posted on Facebook. Because Megan was already hypersensitive, that picture had played directly into her fears about her attractiveness. If she hadn’t already been unsure of her friendship with Rachel, she wouldn’t have jumped to the conclusion that Rachel had posted the picture out of spite.
So many of the challenges presented by technology become a chicken-and-the-egg conundrum. For example, do girls concerned with their looks spend more time on media, or does media cause girls to worry more about their looks? One study determined that teen girls on Facebook were much more likely to be concerned with their body image — particularly their weight — than teen girls not on Facebook. However, “the direction of causality is unknown (it’s possible that social network users differ from non-users in significant ways that make them particularly prone to media use, media messages, and societal pressures).”
Another example: does being online create depression, or do depressed teenagers spend more time online? “People who spend a lot of time surfing the Internet are more likely to show sings of depression. But it is not clear whether the Internet causes depression or whether depressed people are drawn to it.”
In my experience, parents — myself included — tend to look for outside factors to explain the concerns or behaviors of their children, instead of looking candidly at the children themselves. This tendency is so tempting. We desperately hope that if we an just change the outside circumstances, then we can change our kids. Dangers from outside circumstances seem more distant and safer than dangers that might originate from inside the hearts of our children.
As parents, we must resist this tendency. We must not only watch what our children are doing with technology, but we must also seek to understand why they do what they do. Does the “outside,” the technology, matter? Yes. But what matters more is the “inside,” the heart.
Parents have fallen into the trap of looking for outside influences long before technology showed up. Parents have made excuses for poor grades by blaming teachers. They have explained away obesity by claiming bone structure. They have rationalized drug or alcohol addictions by pointing fingers at poor companions. As a therapist, I have seen and heard just about every excuse used by parents to deflect from the difficult truth that the problem was centered in the heart of their child.
Why do I bring this up in regard to technology? Because I want you to realize that children and teens may reveal part of their inner natures through their use of technology.
As a parent, you have control over the what and the when — what the technology is that you bring into the house and when that technology can be used. Your children have control over the how and the why — how and why they will interact with that technology.
You may bring a game console into your house, but your son will reveal who he is through how and why he plays the games. He may play for sheer enjoyment with friends in real time or friends online, reveling in the spatial coordination, the competition, or bragging rights of the game. Or, he may play for domination, single-mindedly choosing violent games to match his aggressive nature.
You may give your daughter a smartphone, but she will reveal who she is by why she calls whom she does and by how she accesses the Internet with it. She may spend a lot of time texting with friends as a way to enhance her relationships. Or, she may use Facebook or other social media as a way to establish a queen-bee status over a group of peers.
Please don’t misunderstand me here: I’m not suggesting that all children or teens are wolves in sheep’s clothing. What I am saying is that parents need to be alert to all aspects of their children’s lives to monitor how those children are doing socially and emotionally, and one of the ways to monitor children is through their use of technology. Watch for warning signs that arise out of the use of technology, so you can investigate further and take action when needed.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, Mental Health Expert and founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago and author of 36 books, Dr. Jantz creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.
 Kaitlyn Wells, “Top Gifts for Teenagers,” Consumer Reports (December 18, 2013). http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2013/12/top-5-tech-gifts-for-teenagers/index.htm (accessed December 3, 2015).
 Seeta Pai and Kelly Schryver, “Children, Teens, Media and Body Image,” Common Sense (January 21, 2015): 7, https://www.commonsensemedia.org/research/children-teens-media-and-body-image (accessed December 3, 2015).