Modern innovation has given us the technology to live life better, simpler, and with less. But teenagers today are busier than ever, stressed out, over-medicated, narcissistic — and losing the ability to connect with others.
Something is not working.
“Today we play ‘the game of life’ and rack up self-worth through likes, profile views, follows, re-tweets, etc.,” said Halley Bock, an expert in human dynamics and author of the forthcoming book in January, “Life, Incorporated: A Practical Guide to Wholehearted Living.” “We play for an audience, not for ourselves, and we become further disassociated with who we really are and what we are passionate about. So, just as we rely on others to boost our self-esteem and self-worth, we look to outside means to fill the emptiness we create when we live life on the stage.”
Short-lived bursts of momentary gratification hinder a teen’s ability to cultivate long-lasting, deep relationships, Bock told LifeZette. Living in a hyper-connected world has resulted in a more disconnected self.
“As we play to others, as if acting on stage to receive accolades via social media, we become less and less tethered to what intrinsically drives us. We become people-pleasers and lose touch with what produces fulfillment and long-term gratification for ourselves.”
But it’s not too late — teens can reconnect with loved ones, and more importantly, themselves, without technology.
“Every time we receive an alert on our devices, we receive a dopamine hit, which is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward.”
Bock shared more of her thoughts in an interview.
Question: How does technology hinder the way we connect with the people around us?
Answer: Technology is a lazy and easy form of relationship. Connecting with people in person requires vulnerability as our views may be challenged, an interaction may not go as planned, and we can’t tightly control the outcome. It also requires energy for sustained presence, listening, and empathy. When we relate online, we can be lazy with our words, our attention span, and the frequency and level of response. When too much time is spent communicating this way, it erodes our ability to connect and communicate in a meaningful way with another person in the flesh.
Q: Why do teens allow technology to get in the way of meaningful relationships?
A: Every time we receive an alert on our devices, we receive a dopamine hit, which is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. The pull of dopamine is so strong it can create addictive behavior and has been linked to social media or online addiction. The impact that technology has on our brains can go a long way in explaining why we feel pulled to check our phones even when we are cognizant that it is not the best choice for the long-term.
Q: Are teenagers today more narcissistic than ever before?
A: Social media breeds narcissism, as it rewards us on a very surface level — usually appearances or special talent. And the algorithms social media uses — it pushes popular content out to more and more people — creates a feeding frenzy mentality. In turn, teens are placing value on superficial qualities. That said, I don’t think the majority of teens are narcissists. I would say they have narcissistic tendencies but are more likely lacking in self-worth and are quite insecure outside of the social media realm.
Q: Let’s talk about cultivating long-lasting deep relationships, and why this is so important.
A: This is how we develop compassion and empathy. Without these traits, we would disassociate and devolve into self-centered beings who have no concern for impact on another.
Q: What do you think will happen to teenagers as they become adults if they are so disconnected with others?
A: They will evolve from having narcissistic tendencies to full-blown narcissists and/or will needlessly struggle with communicating successfully with others. This could impact the workplace, family dynamics, and their ability to fit in and contribute to their larger communities.
Q: Yet abandoning all technology is not the answer either …
A: No, of course not. Technology provides access to information, viewpoints, communities, and opportunities that we wouldn’t have without it. Instead, the message is to recognize it for its strengths and not over-rely on it as a substitute for all communications and relationships. It can serve a temporary need to maintain or nurture an existing relationship, but it is no surrogate for the real deal.
Q: Why is it important for teenagers to stay connected with loved ones?
A: We’re human. We have a tribe mentality and every person needs it … at some point or other. As teenagers, we may feel we are invincible but the time always comes when we need the support of our family and friends. We need to have those relationships well in place and consistently nurtured in order to have them available to us and to provide support for others in their time of need.
Q: What can parents do here? How can they smartly help their teens reconnect with others?
A: Insist on technology-free zones or times of day. Turn off all screens (including the TV) and have conversation — meal times are perfect for this. Also, model the behavior you want to see. If you are staring at your device and/or sneaking glances constantly, then so will your children.
In addition, make it a point to visit with others in person over the weekend — and bring your children with you. And volunteer. Become active in the community.