What impact does technology have on today's adolescents?
Technology is inextricably linked with adolescent existence. In the past decade, technology has become pervasive amongst adolescents and affects the way in which adolescents communicate with one another and with their parents. In past generations, technology was primarily limited to television and video games (and possibly a computer), but current technology has blended forms of technology that were previously distinct. Cell phones now offer internet and video viewing possibilities, so that people are never without technology.
The internet is the most pervasive technological innovation; it governs communication through email, social media and blogging. There are multiple benefits of the internet, including that it helps adolescents meet more peers than they would be able to without the internet. However, the negative aspects of the internet include that adolescents can become involved in sexual predation, racism, and bullying (Subrahmanyam, Greenfield, 2008). Thus, adolescents can become negatively influenced by technology and it is particularly difficult for parents to monitor their child's identity development and protect them from wrongdoing or harmful situations.
Although it is not inherently detrimental, technology can have a negative impact on adolescents' interpersonal communication skills. Those who play video games or remain sedentary while utilizing technology may be susceptible to weight gain (Kautiainen et al., 2005). In particular, adolescents often communicate through text messaging, which involves abbreviated sentences and acronyms. This can be obstructive with regard to adolescents learning how to articulate viewpoints and communicate clearly and effectively. Students who are accustomed to communicating in short sentences (such as those expressed through social media or text messaging) may have difficulty communicating in person. Communicating with teachers and adults who are not familiar with the jargon associated with online communication may have difficulty interacting with adolescents. Furthermore, technology can impede effective interpersonal communication skills because as people become accustomed to communicating through the invisibility of email or text messaging, they may communicate with a greater degree of disrespect than if they were communicating in person. Accordingly, adolescents' ability to make eye contact and engage in a dialogue becomes inhibited.
2. How are adolescents perceived in the media today? Is it positive or negative?
While there are instances of positive portrayals of adolescents in the media today, the overall portrayal of them is decidedly negative. There are a number of reasons for this: adolescents do not have the agency to combat such portrayals, and the age divide between teenagers and adults can make adults suspicious of younger people. Adults often lose sight of the fact that they were once teenagers and negatively portray adolescents as disrespectful of their elders and even dangerous.
One event that greatly impacted the media's portrayal of adolescents was the Columbine shooting, which has elevated suspicion of adolescents (Frymer, 2009). As Frymer notes, media suspicion of adolescents has been prominent since the 1950s (this is exemplified in films such as Rebel Without a Cause (1955)), but with the Columbine shooting, the media became increasingly suspicious and even fearful of youths. The media now assumes that teenagers are angry, alienated youths who are not to be trusted and should be guarded against at all times (this tendency manifests through films such as Gus Van Sant's Elephant (2003)). However, such negativity toward adolescents actually results in manufacturing the perception that adolescents are dangerous, even when they are not -- media colors adolescents as violent individuals even without sufficient evidence.
An additional negative portrayal of adolescents is through the veiled (and sometimes explicit) eroticization of them in advertisements and the portrayals of underweight or even anorexic teenagers in popular culture. Portrayals of underweight teenagers promote body dissatisfaction (Harrison, 2006). Moreover, advertisements often will portray an erotic image of a person and make it difficult to ascertain whether or not the person is an adolescent; for example, a recent advertisement showed a topless adolescent male -- while it is possible that the male was technically an adult, it is also possible that he was younger and the image is emblematic of the media's eroticization of minors.
3. Describe issues and concerns facing adolescents in the area of drug use, eating disorders, suicide, violence, and teen pregnancy
Adolescents are particularly susceptible to peer pressure and so one of the salient concerns facing drug prevention involves impressing upon teenagers the importance of not experimenting with illegal substances even when their peers engage in such behavior. Furthermore, it is important that drugs and alcohol abuse do not take place in the adolescent household as they are particularly impressionable and can easily be swayed into experimenting with illegal substances. Drug prevention is especially difficult with regard to adolescents because teenagers are at an age in which they typically rebel against their parents and thus are not always amenable to counseling and advice (Bahr, Hoffman, Yang, 2005). Instead of submitting to peer pressure, it is imperative that adolescents educate one another about the hazards of taking banned substances.
In addition to drug and alcohol abuse, adolescents are also susceptible to eating disorders, which result from unreasonable portrayals of body image in the media, compounded by the fact that the adolescent body is still growing and thus adolescents have not yet come to terms with their own body. Eating disorders result from the body either depriving itself of nourishment or overindulging in food; adults should constantly monitor adolescents to ensure that they do not succumb to such outcomes. Because potentially harmful representations of body image abound in society and cannot be eradicated, teenagers should be alerted to hazardous representations and educated as to proper nourishment and nutritional guidelines.
Suicide and violence should also be guarded against. Many teens suffer from depression and adults should be sensitive to adolescent moods and provide therapy should they become depressed. While adolescence is one stage (albeit a particularly difficult one) in a person's biological evolution, suicide and violence can result in death and preclude one from ever realizing adulthood. In many cases, caring and responsible adults can prevent such occurrences from ever taking place.
One additional issue facing adolescents is teen pregnancy. Many adolescents are presented (particularly by the media) with the impression that reproductive healthcare and contraception are negative (Jaworski, 2009). Teens then engage in sexual intercourse and teen pregnancy results. Sexual education courses should educate and familiarize adolescents with regard to practicing safe sex. The vast majority of teens are emotionally and financially unprepared for the rigors of raising a family, and it is crucial that they understand that reproductive healthcare and contraception are essential.
4. What have you learned about the adolescent brain? How is it different from an adult's brain?
The adolescent brain exists in a state of constant growth and discovery. It has been shown that the adolescent brain exhibits a pronounced degree of plasticity and evinces tremendous changes with regard to structure and function (Romeo, McEwen, 2006). Not only does this make adolescents susceptible to rapid mood swings and personality developments, but, as Romeo and McEwen (2006) have shown, it can also make them liable to stress and anxiety. Although adults' brains can also become susceptible to stress and anxiety, it is particularly acute in adolescents as they have not yet learned how to manage stress and appropriately juggle all of their responsibilities. While this is in many cases positive, it also enables adolescents to become influenced by others and tempts them into making poor decisions. Adolescents often feel the need to become more independent and the adolescent brain may have difficulty balancing between asserting their individuality (often rebelling against their parents, teachers, etc.) and adhering to moral decorum.
The media has also been shown to have a crucial, often detrimental effect on shaping adolescents' beliefs and even their brains and biology (Ward, 2005). Teenagers become influenced by media portrayals of politics, gender, popular culture, and mores and this can have a great impact on the functioning of their brain, including their attention span, capacity for processing material, and ability to manage stress and their varied responsibilities. In this regard, the adolescent brain is different from the adult brain because in many cases, teenagers have not yet learned how to approach the media with a critical perspective and are overly influenced by its pervasive influence. The adolescent brain has not realized the ability to think independently and is thus influenced to a degree far greater than that of the adult brain.
5. What can parents, teachers, and other adults do to help adolescents through periods of identity development?
While it is true that adolescents are often hostile or rebellious toward their elders, adults are nonetheless instrumental in helping adolescents develop their identities in productive ways. Accordingly, they should be aware that, consciously or otherwise, teenagers will be influenced by the behavior of their elders. All adolescents should have a strong adult support system, beginning with parents and also involving teachers, coaches, or any other influential authority figures. If the adolescent suffers from depression or an anxiety disorder, it is crucial that…