The Digital Age - Recap
Updated: Mar 9
On Friday February 28th from 7-9 pm we hosted a Parent Engagement Night entitled, “The Digital Age: The Effects of Screen Time.” We welcomed Dr. Sandra Sagrati the Director and Clinical Psychologist of Toronto West Psychology and works with children, adolescents, and adults. She obtained her Doctoral Degree in Developmental Psychology from the University of Toronto and completed internships at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in both the Anxiety Treatment and Research Centre and the Mood Disorders Program.
Dr. Sagrati began her presentation by offering some staggering statistics surrounding devices and their use in families. She noted prominently that 6 billion people in the world have access to a cell phone, while only 4.5 billion have access to working toilets. In more detail she revealed that over 90% of teens use laptops and devices for school work, and nearly 75% of them are also on social media, with the average age of getting a cell phone being 10 years old. These numbers are shocking, and yet not surprising, given many of the challenges parents within our own community are facing today.
Speaking with one parent after the presentation, he revealed that his eldest son, in grade 9 is entirely addicted to his devices, and that when they take away their son’s devices at night, he is mortified, stating that he is the “only kid on the planet” who can’t use his phone at night.
The experience of this father is not surprising considering the biological effects that screen time have on our brains. Dr. Sagrati shared that when exposed to screens, our brains receive dopamine increases, such that with every new text or like, we have a biologically positive response. However, the more we grow accustomed to this, the more the brain begins to depend on the increased levels of dopamine, meaning that when the screens are removed, our teens can even go through periods of withdrawal, similar to that of someone addicted to alcohol or drugs.
A recent study done on mice, where they were exposed to lights and sounds similar to that of the screen time our teens encounter showed that the mice who were more exposed to this “screen time” acted like they had an Attention Deficit Disorder, showed signs of learning problems, and were prone to risky behavior. Dr. Sagrati reflected that this study reveals what is happening especially to our youngest generation as they become more and more attached to their devices, they show similar signs to these mice.
Another consequence of this increased screen time is a lessening of empathy and ability to navigate social cues. Young people who spend more and more time with their screens as a mediator lose the ability to effectively manage face-to-face interactions, either by lacking the empathy to connect well with others, or in the inability to detect subtleties of conversation and communication. Therefore, youth who spend more time on screens are isolated by their own inability to overcome the barriers their screens have created.
Additionally, increased time with screens can lead to a decrease in self-worth and confidence, amongst both adults and teens, by creating impossible comparisons between people on social media, tv, and YouTube. Social anxiety increases greatly amongst teens on social media platforms because they find themselves constantly competing with others, and devaluing their own experiences and joy because they are not as fabulous as that of their peers (from what they perceive on social media). In addition to this, teens feel they need to construct their identity on social media to present a version of themselves that is desirable, cool and worthy of attention, meaning that they can begin to disconnect with their own personal identity in real life. There is also a deep fear of bullying and the harm that can be done by others over the internet in comments, private messages, and other platforms which allow for the sharing of content easily.
To combat this, Dr. Sagrati recommended that parents encourage their children to take time each day way from their phones to be in a real relationship with others. “Take back dinner time,” she encourages, inviting parents to make a commitment to be present with their teens so that they can have a break from recreating themselves online, and anxiously awaiting responses from others.
Finally, Dr. Sagrati shared how increased screen time can be a contributing to the increase in pornography, sexting, and expedited physical relationships amongst teens. She cites that 73% of teens under 18 have watched porn, with most boys having seen it before the age of 9. She revealed the alarming statistic that at least 1 in 4 teens are receiving sexts, 1 in 7 are sending them, and 1 in 10 are forwarding sexts without consent. The culture of online dating and social pressure has meant that instead of going on a date, and then not speaking again until the next date has evaporated, replaced now by constant communication over text, where relationships “progress” at an exponential rate.
However, Dr. Sagrati did not leave the discussion there, but instead offered some really effective tools for beginning to respond to the challenges teens are facing because of their screens. She advises that parents should attempt to have honest and non-judgemental conversations with their kids about pornography, sexting, and the challenges of dating in a culture that is so digitized. If teens are reluctant to talk about their own experiences, Dr. Sagrati suggests beginning by asking your child if their friends have encountered these issues, as a healthy segway into the conversation without accusation. Another tip is to be frank about the safety concerns surrounding sexting and the consequences this can have on their later careers, because once it is on the internet we cannot control who has access to it, even if it was send “privately.”
Dr. Sagrati was very encouraging as she closed out her presentation by reminding parents that as parents you have the authority to have these conversations, and set new expectations for your children, and that if you do this confidently you can effect real change in their lives. She also recommended that after having open discussions about technology, its usefulness and its danger, you work with your child to set boundaries together, that way they are part of the process, rather than simply the recipient of new rules. She also recommends that the best way to encourage your teens to get away from their devices is to do so yourself. Take time to read a book, or invite them to go for a bike ride with you. If you are constantly attached to your device, your children will resent the double standard. Another tip is to engage with your teens and their devices, ask to play one of their video games with them, and show interest in these things that are taking up all of their time. Her final words of wisdom, were a challenge to parents to try and model good technological use by taking time-outs from using devices while on vacation, or at dinner, or out on a family outing. To not constantly try to capture the moment with photos, but instead to be present to each moment, not anxiously trying to capture it. Finally, she invites parents to stop comparing themselves to other parents, and other families, and to accept where their family is at today, and continue to work to be better tomorrow.
We were so blessed to have Dr. Sandra Sagrati join us for this engaging and truly informative presentation, and we look forward to the next Parent Engagement Night! Join us on March 27th from 7-9pm at Merciful Redeemer Parish in Mississauga for a presentation by John MacMullen, Associate Director of Youth Ministry at OCY, for a presentation on Effective Listening and Communicating with your children.