EVANSTON — “During COVID, when my two children were attending school online, I began to realize just how much of an impact technology has on children,” Dr. Lisa Strohman said at the beginning of her presentation at Davis Middle School the evening of Aug. 23. “I’m not against technology — I use it — but there is appropriate use and there is inappropriate use.”
Dr. Strohman was invited by Uinta County School District No. 1 and its Project AWARE Program to give a presentation titled “Parenting in a Tech Addicted World” first to middle and high school students during the day, and then to parents and family during the evening.
Strohman is a clinical psychologist who established Digital Citizen Academy to proactively prevent and educate students, educators and parents on the issues resulting from technology use.
She currently has a private practice in Scottsdale, Arizona, and lives in Kave Creek, Arizona.
While in graduate school, Strohman worked with the FBI Honors Internship Program and eventually practiced law for a time before deciding that psychology was her strongest calling. Her area of specialty in psychology is to work with tweens, teens and adults who are suffering the adverse effects of technology overuse.
Strohman is the author of two books: “Unplug: Raising Kids in a Technology Addicted World” and, more recently, “Digital Distress: Growing Up Online” co-authored with Melissa J. Westendorf.
“We used to have a more stable environment influencing our children, family, school, church,” Strohman said, “and then 10 years ago, technology boomed and our kids are now being influenced by strangers.”
As an example of the effects of tech on family relationships, Strohman showed a video that demonstrated some negatives of technology use. The video showed a family sitting down to dinner and the mother asking the children to talk about their day at school. The father is on his cellphone but pretends to be listening by responding to the children’s comments, however inappropriately. At one point the teenage daughter, who is frustrated with her father’s responses, responds to his question about what she plans to do that evening by stating she is going to go to the basement to cook up some meth. The father’s response is that he thinks that is nice; it is evident he hasn’t listened to a word the daughter said.
Strohman said her presentation included a review of information on technology, learning the psychology behind the concerns and providing steps parents can take to protect their children from the negative effects of tech overuse.
“A lot has changed as to what we call addiction in today’s world,” Strohman said. “Studies show that teens today spend an average of 14 hours a day on tech. Children are gaining access to all kinds of technology at a much younger age — the average age for getting a first tech device is 7. Juveniles today have never known a world without tech.”
She then read current statistics regarding the negative use of tech and the results on children.
Statistics from 2021 show a 51% increase in suicide and self-harm among teens; one in six teens self-harm. Suicide is the leading cause of death for adolescents, she said, adding that 80% of children under the age of 18 are exposed to cyberbullying and shaming messages. Self-harm and the reporting of suicidal thoughts have increased by 225% in elementary and middle schools, and tech addiction contributes to a limited capacity for self-regulation.
“In my 20 years’ experience as a psychologist,” Strohman said, “I’ve discovered that kids just want to be noticed. They have a lot of anxiety about what to do with their feelings and when they self-harm; after the initial pain, they say they get a ‘runner’s high.’ That adrenalin rush can lead to more self harm.”
Strohman’s presentation showed a mass of social media sites and when she asked the young people in the audience how many knew a majority of the sites, most of them raised their hands.
Strohman then asked how many ever read the terms of service of any of the sites — no one raised their hand.
“There is no such thing as a secret app,” Strohman said. “All of these sites are shared and when you put something on one site, they have the right to share with anyone and can do whatever they want with the information. All sites can be used unsafely and can also be used safely.”
Strohman went over a paragraph in the “terms of service” from one of the social media sites which stated that 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 of age, she said, the industry has automatic access to everything.
Strohman said she lists her two children’s ages as younger than they are on sites they use, so they are better protected, listing them as younger than 13 on tech sites.
TikTok is owned by a Chinese company, she said, and an interesting fact is that children in China are not allowed on TikTok.
She said the U.S. is more lenient regarding rules on technology than any other country.
Children under the age of 13 are not allowed access to SnapChat, and Strohman said it is the social media platform that traffickers use the most to find victims.
“An interesting fact about (Mark) Zuckerberg, who started Facebook, is that 10 years ago, he manipulated emotions on Facebook just to see if he could,” Strohman said. “Addiction is by design; it is intended; that is how these sites make money.”
Brain studies done with an MRI show the brain is damaged by overuse of tech, Strohman explained.
In teens with internet addiction, there is decreased functional brain connectivity and microstructure abnormalities. Studies show that tech addiction actually changes the brain.
An audience member asked at what age a child should get his or her own cell phone.
Strohman said that, in her opinion, a child should not receive a personal cell phone before reaching the eighth grade, and it should be monitored.
“The issue is that elementary students need to learn choices, and parents and teachers need to talk to them about this information,” Strohman said. “Ask your child about what is happening at school; monitor their tech time and what they are watching; search your own sites and your family sites at least once a month and clean off unwanted information. Have on-going conversations with your children about technology use.”
Strohman pointed to a triangle on a projector screen.
“Resilience is the triangle of well-being,” she said. “Resilience is the important connection between the mind, the brain and relationships that fosters well-being.”
At the earlier meeting with middle school and high school students, Strohman covered many of the same facts and warned them of the terms of service of social media sites.
She began by sharing her own personal history of an unstable home life, surviving bouts of homelessness, abuse and neglect. Strohman said her grandmother was the stable influence in her life and encouraged her to pursue education to better her life.
When she asked the teens how many had friends who had shared a personal photo, nearly all raised their hands and, when she asked how many read the terms of service on sites, they all responded with “no.”
“I understand why teens post things online,” Strohman said. “They 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 pressured into doing it by friends.”
Strohman talked about the dangers of human trafficking sites, child pornography and child sexual abuse materials online and then showed a video of a true story of a young girl who had 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 to get it removed to no avail and eventually was bullied, became depressed and took her own life.
“Just remember, whatever you post becomes your digital footprint,” Strohman said. “Remember, human relationships are not Hollywood Tik Tok; reality is hard. Talk to counselors and your parents before posting anything online. The past is behind you, learn from it. The future is ahead — prepare for it. The present is here — live it. This is your future.”