How Does Addiction to Technology Affect Behavior?

We need better science to understand the real impact on our lives.

Common Sense Media logoJim Steyer
Common Sense Media
CEO & Founder | Dad of Four

In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, businessman and author Tony Schwartz offered an honest yet troubling account of what he calls his “addiction” to technology.

The medical and research fields have not yet come to a clear consensus on what constitutes technology “addiction” and which factors distinguish a true technology addiction disorder from problematic use or just bad habits. But the behavior Schwartz describes is remarkably familiar to those of us who are on our devices more than we know we ought to be.

addiction-blogThis holiday season, as many of us reunite and spend quality time with loved ones from across the country and around the globe, it is important to reflect on how our human connections are being altered by our technological connections. The truth is, we simply don’t know enough about how the frequency or quality of our technology use is changing basic human interactions and behaviors.

What we do know is that like us adults, our kids are spending more time than ever with their screens. The Common Sense Census, released earlier this year, sheds light on what kids age 8–18 are doing with entertainment media every day. Given the amount of time kids are spending — six hours a day for tweens and nine for teens — it certainly does matter.

Think about the fact that Schwartz, a smart adult and successful businessman, acknowledged his problem yet still struggled to kick the habit of looking at his device constantly. How can we possibly expect kids and teens to take it upon themselves to manage their digital behavior when adults can’t do it?

Our world is changing, and kids are spending a lot of time with media — and they’re doing it in a variety of ways and on many platforms. Media use can be beneficial for our kids, from them using educational apps and websites to creating their own content — and they should also enjoy media use for entertainment! But we must know how and when to create limits for ourselves.

As parents, we want to find ways to use media to support healthy development, learning, and community building. But we can’t begin to make sense of what these technological changes mean for kids until we understand what’s being used and for how long and how kids feel about technology and media. From there, we must delve deeper to understand how our technology is changing the way we live.

As we embrace exciting new technological innovations, it is important to articulate the need for balance in our media and technology use and to promote the new research so that we can all make informed decisions, both for ourselves and for our children.

We need to develop a better collective understanding of how our new technology habits are changing our behavior. Increased government or foundation-supported funding is needed for research into important questions such as: What is the impact of technology use on empathy? How can we develop strategies to minimize the cognitive costs associated with multitasking? How does media use affect our face-to-face communication?

We’re in the middle of a huge unplanned experiment right now, one that many of us may not fully realize is happening. It would benefit us all to have research to separate facts from fiction when it comes to problematic technology use and to find ways in which technologies could better support our human connectedness rather than replace it.

JimSteyerAbout Jim Steyer

Jim is Common Sense Media’s CEO and founder — read all about him here.

View all posts by Jim Steyer on here.

This post was originally posted by Common Sense Media on 12/2/15.

Common Sense MediaAbout Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media is dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology. We exist because our kids are growing up in a culture that profoundly impacts their physical, social, and emotional well-being. We provide families with the advice and media reviews they need in order to make the best choices for their children. Through our education programs and policy efforts, Common Sense Media empowers parents, educators, and young people to become knowledgeable and responsible digital citizens. For more information, visit us at

7 Comments on “How Does Addiction to Technology Affect Behavior?”

  1. I shut everything down around 7 each evening it’s good to spend time with each other everyday!

  2. Interesting read. It’s sad kids aren’t going outside and playing (using their imagination) as much as I did as a kid growing up.

    1. Thanks for the comment Laura. Of course, there are plenty of positive aspects to the increase in technology. We see super imaginative online resources, apps, and electronic learning products all the time. As parents, the important thing is that we set good examples and rules to limit screen time for our children. Everything in moderation!

  3. My wife and I spend a lot of time on our PCs and phones. We have a no phone policy during lunch time and dinner time together. We’ve been trying to cut down screen time and spend more time outdoors with the kids and it’s been going really well

    1. That’s great, Justin! A no phone policy during meal time is really a great thing. We do that too. Meal times should be a time when your family sits together and interacts together. Glad to hear your mission to cut down on screen time is going well. Would love to hear other suggestions you have for that too.

  4. I know for a fact we need to cut back on the tech in our household! I find Winter to be worse because I can’t just send them outside to play. Goal for 2016 is to cut WAY back!!!

    1. That sounds like a great goal, Shannon! We have been working to cut back in our household too!

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