Combatting Digital Stress in Teens

We acknowledge the paradox of computers and other technology as useful learning tools as well as sources of great stress. Balancing this complexity can be difficult, especially for young adults. Below is some helpful information about recognizing digital stress and ways that you can help prevent and combat it. At the bottom you’ll find links to additional resources.

Definition of Digital Stress
Digital stress is stress caused by negative interactions in emails, texts, social media, chat rooms and forums. 

What are the signs and symptoms of digital stress?
Common signs that your child may be experiencing digital stress include the following:

  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Isolation or withdrawal from social activities
  • Increased secrecy
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Failing grades
  • Rebellion
  • Stomachaches, headaches, or other general body aches not explained by a medical condition

Tips for parents to combat digital stress
Dr. Radzik suggests the following ways to help your teen prevent and overcome digital stress:

  • Manage cell phone and internet use starting at a very early age
  • Model appropriate cell phone and social media use. Example: Every time a parent takes a “selfie” with their infant, they are demonstrating that this is the venue in which to take and send pictures to others.
  • Discuss the risks of posting pictures and comments online prior to giving your child their first cell phone or allowing them unmonitored internet access. Privacy concerns, confidential information and protecting the child are all topics the parent should discuss.
  • If you notice a change, open a non-judgmental discussion with your child. If they cannot speak with you, seek outside professional help either through their school, pediatrician’s office or at a mental health agency.

Providing an ongoing open line of communication with your teenager will encourage them to report negative experiences to you. However, sometimes your teenager may not feel comfortable sharing this information. In these cases, parents should be aware of any changes in your child’s behavior, mood, social interactions and school performance.

Open discussion about the stressors that can occur from the use of cell phones, social media and other online interactions will enhance the coping of children and adolescents with these now important methods of communication.


Video Games 

Video games are intentionally designed using state-of-the-art behavior psychology to keep you hooked. Games are immersive experiences that provide you with a high amount of dopamine, and overexposure to this level of stimulation can cause structural changes to your brain.

The American Psychiatric Association has identified nine warning signs to watch for when it comes to video game addiction. Although these can be helpful to better understand the severity of your own situation, it’s important to always seek the advice of a professional.

  1. Preoccupation with video games. The individual thinks about previous gaming activity or anticipates playing the next game; Gaming becomes the dominant activity in daily life.
  2. Withdrawal symptoms when gaming is taken away. These symptoms are typically described as irritability, anxiety, boredom, cravings, or sadness.
  3. Tolerance – the need to spend increasing amounts of time engaged in video games. This may be motivated by a need for completion of increasingly intricate, time-consuming, or difficult goals to achieve satisfaction and/or reduce fears of missing out.
  4. Unsuccessful attempts to control the participation in video games.
  5. Loss of interest in previous hobbies and entertainment as a result of, and with the exception of, video games.
  6. Continued excessive use of games despite knowledge of psychosocial problems. The individual continues to play despite negative impact.
  7. Has deceived family members, therapists, or others regarding their gaming.
  8. Use of video games to escape or relieve a negative mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety).
  9. Has jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, educational, or career opportunity because of participation in video games.

If you notice five (or more) of the above warning signs in a 12-month period, you may be dealing with an addiction and should seek the help of a professional immediately.

Psychological Reasons people play video games are the same reasons people are on social media:

  1. Element of Escapism
  2. Competency
  3. Autonomy – Control
  4. Relatedness
  5. Release of Endorphins

When we do anything that triggers our brain’s reward system, that information gets locked into our brains. A reward system is, basically, a system that governs how the brain feels when we do something — a chore, a job, anything — that results in reward at least some of the time. If we keep getting a reward for the same task, we start to understand the relationship between the two and our brain builds the appropriate connections. It means the next time we come across the chance to do that same task, we assume we’re at least a bit likely to get a gift in return. How strong the reward system is in our brains depends on how often we get the reward and how big of a reward it is.

Video games are built to exploit this part of our brain. Kill monster, get points. Complete level, get happy music. Win game, feel satisfied. It’s a very simple and primitive part of who we are. We react the same way to everything, from food to sex, in education and even in our relationship with our parents, who, if they are good parents, scold bad behavior and reward good.

A 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 8- to 18-year-old children devote an average of seven hours and 38 minutes to entertainment media each day.

Strategies to Manage Your Teen’s Screen Time

  1. Make screen time a privilege
  2. Role Model Healthy Habits
  3. Discourage Multitasking
  4. Establish Clear Rules about Electronics
  5. Encourage Physical Activity
  6. Educate Your Teen About Media 
  7. Don’t Allow Electronics During Mealtimes
  8. Create Screen-Free Days
  9. Schedule Family Activities That don’t involve Electronics
  10. Hold Family Meetings to Discuss Screen Time

Please find additional resources linked below:

Common Sense Media: An organization who aims to call attention to the outsized influence of media and tech on kids’ lives and to empower families with information they need to be advocates for their children. 

Parent Controls 

Parent’s Ultimate Guides

Privacy and Internet Safety for Teens



Digital Stress: What Is It, How Does It Affect Teens and How Can You Help?

How Parents Can Set Limits on Tv, Computers, Video Games, and Phones

Amy Morin –

Psychological Reasons Why Some People Play Video Games

Alicia Saville –

The Psychology Of Video Game Addiction

Jack Flanagan –

Parents’ Ultimate Guide To Parental Controls

Caroline Knorr –