EVANSTON – “During COVID, with both of my kids going to school online, I started to realize just how much technology impacts kids,” said Dr 23. “I’m not against technology — I use it — but there is an appropriate and an inappropriate use.”
dr Strohman was awarded by Uinta County School District No. 1 and its Project AWARE program to give a presentation entitled “Parenting in a Tech Addicted World,” first during the day for middle and high school students, and then during the day for parents and family in the evening.
Strohman is a clinical psychologist who founded the Digital Citizen Academy to proactively prevent and educate students, educators, and parents about the issues that arise from the use of technology.
She currently has private practice in Scottsdale, Arizona and resides in Kave Creek, Arizona.
During her college days, Strohman worked with the FBI Honors Internship Program and eventually practiced law for a time before deciding that psychology was her strongest calling. Her specialty in psychology is working with tweens, teens and adults who are suffering from the adverse effects of overuse of technology.
Strohman is the author of two books, Unplug: Raising Kids in a Technology Addicted World, and more recently, Digital Distress: Growing Up Online, with Melissa J. Westendorf.
“We used to have a more stable environment that influenced our kids, family, school, church,” Strohman said, “and then 10 years ago technology was booming and our kids are now being influenced by strangers.”
As an example of the impact of technology on family relationships, Strohman showed a video demonstrating some of the downsides of using technology. The video showed a family sitting down to dinner and the mother asking the children to talk about their school day. The father is on his cell phone but pretends to be listening, responding to the children’s comments, albeit inappropriately. At one point, when asked what she’s up to that night, the teenage daughter, frustrated by her father’s answers, responds by explaining that she’s going down to the basement to cook up some meth. The father’s response is that he thinks that’s nice; it’s obvious that he didn’t listen to a word the daughter said.
Strohman said her presentation included reviewing information about technology, learning the psychology behind the concerns, and providing steps parents can take to protect their children from the negative effects of overuse of technology.
“A lot has changed in what we call addiction in today’s world,” Strohman said. “Studies show that teenagers today spend an average of 14 hours a day on technology. Children are gaining access to all kinds of technology at a much younger age – the average age for acquiring their first tech device is 7. Today’s teenagers have never seen a world without technology.”
She then read current statistics on the negative use of technology and its impact on children.
Statistics from 2021 show a 51% increase in suicide and self-harm among teenagers; One in six teenagers self-harm. Suicide is the leading cause of death among teenagers, she said, adding that 80% of children under the age of 18 have been subjected to cyberbullying and shaming messages. Self-harm and reporting suicidal thoughts have increased by 225% in elementary and junior high schools, and technology addiction contributes to a limited capacity for self-regulation.
“In my 20 years as a psychologist,” Strohman said, “I’ve discovered that kids just want to be noticed. They are very afraid of what to do with their feelings and when they will hurt themselves; After the initial pain, they reportedly get a “runner’s high.” That adrenaline rush can lead to even more self-harm.”
Strohman’s presentation showcased a plethora of social media sites and when she asked the young audience how many the majority of the sites knew, most raised their hands.
Strohman then asked how many had ever read either site’s terms of service — no one raised their hand.
“There’s no such thing as a secret app,” Strohman said. “All of these websites are shared and if you post something on a website, they have the right to share it with anyone and can do whatever they want with the information. All websites can be used insecurely and also safely.”
Strohman went through a paragraph in the “Terms of Service” of one of the social media sites that said the site can sell, share, change or do anything they want with the information placed on the site. As long as the person is 13 years old, the industry automatically has access to everything.
Strohman said she lists the ages of her two children as younger on the websites they use so they are better protected, and lists them as younger than 13 on tech websites.
TikTok is owned by a Chinese company, she said, and an interesting fact is that children aren’t allowed on TikTok in China.
She said the US is more lenient than any other country when it comes to technology rules.
Children under the age of 13 don’t have access to SnapChat, and Strohman said it’s the social media platform traffickers use most often to find victims.
“An interesting fact about (Mark) Zuckerberg, who started Facebook, is that 10 years ago he was manipulating emotions on Facebook just to see if he could,” Strohman said. “Addiction is by design; it is intended; this is how these sites make money.”
Brain studies performed with an MRI show that the brain is damaged by overuse of technology, Strohman explained.
In teenagers with Internet addiction, there is decreased functional brain connectivity and microstructural abnormalities. Studies show that tech addiction actually changes the brain.
A listener asked at what age a child should get their own mobile phone.
Strohman said that in her opinion, a child should not be given a personal cell phone until they reach eighth grade and should be monitored.
“The problem is that elementary school students need to learn choices, and parents and teachers need to talk to them about that information,” Strohman said. “Ask your child what is happening at school; Monitor their tech time and what they see; Scan your own and family sites at least once a month and remove unwanted information. Have ongoing conversations with your kids about using technology.”
Strohman pointed to a triangle on a projection screen.
“Resilience is the triangle of well-being,” she said. “Resilience is the important connection between mind, brain and relationships that promotes well-being.”
At the earlier meeting with middle and high school students, Strohman covered many of the same facts and warned them about social media sites’ terms of service.
She began by sharing her own personal story of unstable family life and surviving bouts of homelessness, abuse and neglect. Strohman said her grandmother was the stable influence in her life and encouraged her to pursue further education to improve her life.
“I understand why teenagers post things online,” Strohman said. “You don’t want to be left out; they may send something to their boyfriend because they don’t want to lose the relationship; or they are pushed by friends.”
Speaking about the dangers of human trafficking websites, child pornography and child sexual abuse material online, Strohman then shared a true story video of a young girl who shared a very personal photo of herself with her boyfriend, who in turn shared it with his friends and it went viral. The young woman tried in vain to have it removed, was eventually bullied, became depressed and took her own life.
“Just remember that everything you post becomes your digital footprint,” Strohman said. “Remember, human relationships aren’t a Hollywood Tik Tok; reality is harsh. Talk to counselors and your parents before posting anything online. The past is behind you, learn from it. The future is ahead of you – prepare for it. The present is here – live it. This is your future.”