Last week the American Psychological Association (APA) released the second part of their findings from their 1oth annual Stress in America survey. While the first part of the findings dealt with changing national politics, the economy, and other topics (see below for a link to the report on these findings), we are going to focus on Part II, which deals with the impacts of technology and communication on stress levels in the United States. In addition to the insight the report provides on broader trends in our relationships with technology, social media, and work, there are some important takeaway lessons for mentoring programs and mentors.
First, let’s dive into the findings of the report itself. From the APA:
Constant Checkers Experience Higher Stress
This excessive technology and social media use has paved the way for the “constant checker” — those who check their email, texts and social media accounts on a constant basis. The survey found that stress runs higher, on average, for constant checkers than for those who do not engage with technology as frequently. On a 10-point scale, where one is “little or no stress” and 10 is “a great deal of stress,” the average reported overall stress level for constant checkers is 5.3, compared with 4.4 for those who don’t check as frequently. Among employed Americans who check their work email constantly on their days off, their reported overall stress level is even higher, at 6.0.
“The emergence of mobile devices and social networks over the last decade has certainly changed the way Americans live and communicate on a daily basis,” said Lynn Bufka, PhD, APA’s associate executive director for practice research and policy. “Today, almost all American adults own at least one electronic device, with many being constantly connected to them. What these individuals don’t consider is that while technology helps us in many ways, being constantly connected can have a negative impact on both their physical and mental health.”
Parents Struggle to Manage Children’s Technology
Parents also seem to be feeling the pressure when it comes to balancing their children’s technology use when it comes to familial interactions. While 94 percent of parents say that they take at least one action to manage their child’s technology usage during the school year, almost half (48 percent) say that regulating their child’s screen time is a constant battle, and more than half of parents (58 percent) report feeling like their child is attached to their phone or tablet.
Additionally, almost half of parents (45 percent) say they feel disconnected from their families even when they are together because of technology. More than half of parents (58 percent) say they worry about the influence of social media on their child’s physical and mental health.
Effects of Social Media and Need for Digital Detox
Social media also negatively affects a greater proportion of constant checkers compared with those who do not check as frequently. More than two in five constant checkers (42 percent) say that political and cultural discussions on social media cause them stress, compared with 33 percent of nonconstant checkers. Additionally, 42 percent of constant checkers say they worry about negative effects of social media on their physical and mental health, compared with 27 percent of people who don’t check as often.
This has led to the prevalence of the idea of taking a “digital detox,” or “unplugging” from social media to remove oneself from the constant exposure to updates and limiting technology and social media use. However, while almost 2/3 of respondents endorsed the importance of taking a break from digital media, less than a third (28%) actually are able to do so.
“Taking a digital detox is one of the most helpful ways to manage stress related to technology use,” Bufka said. “Constant checkers could benefit from limiting their use of technology and presence on social media. Adults, and particularly parents, should strive to set a good example for children when it comes to a healthy relationship with technology.”
Implications for mentoring and mentoring programs
So what does this mean for concerned mentors and mentoring programs? From the programmatic perspective, it means that social media and technology use will be a key aspect of the mentoring relationship. That in mind, it is crucial that programs provide guidance for mentors and mentees on how to navigate the social media landscape in the mentoring relationship. Unfortunately, recent research has shown that only about half of programs have a formalized policy regarding social media use, and a minority of programs (~10%) have policies regarding specific social media platforms and digital communication, such as Facebook or texting. This lack of guidance leaves mentors in a potential grey area for establishing boundaries in their mentoring relationships.
In considering the mentoring relationship perspective, there is an opportunity to incorporate a digital detox into the mentoring relationship that will help to provide your mentee a reprieve from constant social media engagement. Navigating social media is challenging enough for youth (and adults!), and taking the time to step back and connect on an interpersonal level with a mentor can help to provide the chance for the mentee to develop key interpersonal skills and connections. Creating a tech-free space can also give the mentee time to process their thoughts and feelings on something they have seen or experienced online or during the course of their day without the constant blizzard of updates, videos, and memes that serve to clutter the digital landscape.
For mentors, it is an opportunity for you to disconnect, too. The findings from these surveys apply to mentors and mentees both, with constant connection being associated with more stress. Being a mentor is often a rewarding experience, but it can be stressful as well. Compounding that stress with constant social media and email engagement may lead to negative potential outcomes such as burnout or early relationship closure.
One other key takeaway is the importance of modeling proper social media behavior for your mentee. If you, as a mentor, are consistently engaged with your phone or computer, and not with your mentee, then you can expect them to return the favor. As the report mentions, parents are already struggling with managing youth engagement with technology. This is an opportunity to create a co-constructed space with your mentee to unplug from technology. That space can also help provide parents with a blueprint in responsibly managing youth and adolescent technology use.
Social media can be a useful tool in helping to develop mentoring relationships and skills for mentors, mentees, and mentoring programs. At this point, attempting to disconnect completely is most likely an impossible task, even if it were a desirable outcome. However, as with all things, social media connectivity comes with its own set of pitfalls and challenges that can threaten the development of a positive mentoring relationship. It’s up to the mentoring program, mentors, and mentees to determine how to navigate these spaces in a clearly defined, productive way.