Tech Talk: Tech Addiction

Tech Talk: Tech Addiction

The pressure to stay connected online can sometimes lead to tech addiction. Emma Robertson, Co-Founder of leading online safety organisation Digital Awareness UK, looks at developments in ‘digital wellbeing’ and offers tips on how to manage our relationship with technology.

Looking back, 2018 was the year when ‘tech addiction’ came under the spotlight. It was hard to get away from articles in the media reporting on ‘Fortnite addiction’. The NHS announced it would be launching ‘Internet Addiction Clinics’. Television shows such as Black Mirror shed light on the extent to which addictive vulnerability can be exploited through the use of technology.

As Co-Founder of one of the UK’s leading online safety organisations, I get the opportunity to speak to both young people and parents about how they are using technology on a daily basis and it seems the very nature of how young people are gaming and using social media has shifted dramatically. 

Whilst my organisation is mostly focused on driving awareness around the positive use of technology, it seems many of our students are feeling a number of pressures to stay connected and that often leads to them feeling addicted.

We often hear them talk about how they feel when they are gaming, or how on social media you need to be ‘in it to win it’. They have moved from a more comfortable position where they used these platforms as and when they felt the desire to, to finding themselves in a situation where they feel compelled to keep using them because they will miss out on something critical if they don’t. And so the FOMO (fear of missing out) trend continues.

This requirement could be driven by the fact that a feature within a game will expire, they won’t see the latest update, or the fact the where so many games are inherently social you can’t just press ‘pause’ and continue from where you left off at a later date. It may be due to the fact content posted on social media increasingly appears in a ‘live’ or ‘semi-permanent’ format eg. as an Instagram Story, meaning that if you missed the post, you may never get the chance to see it again.

It’s rare for us to work in schools now where students aren’t sharing stories about how they feel addicted to their technology to some degree. They are starting to become acutely aware of the impact technology is having on the ways in which they eat, sleep, socialise and study amongst other things.

We always encourage students to assess the impact technology has on those key points throughout the day such as eating and sleeping, but we also encourage them to consider what isn’t happening as a result of the technology they use. For example, is technology stopping them from being active? Or from engaging with the people who are physically around them?

At the same time, we saw really positive steps being made as the digital wellbeing agenda became a focal point. The ‘big tech’ companies such as Facebook, Apple and Google announced that they would be building features into their technology to allow people to use their tech more consciously (the new Screen Time feature that launched on Apple’s mobile operating system iOS 12 is a perfect example of this). 

We also noticed that both students and parents were talking in a more informed way about the ‘addictive by design’ concept and how some technology is designed to keep us ‘hooked’, as well as the strategies they employ to control their usage, such as keeping devices out of bedrooms.

So whilst it feels like we’re going into 2019 feeling apprehensive about what the next Fortnite or social media feature will bring, we should also feel reassured that the narrative around how we can’t control our relationship with our technology is breaking. To support this move, Digital Awareness UK and The Headmaster’s and Headmistresses’ Conference launched the Tech Control campaign, designed to inspire young people and parents to make smart choices when using their technology to ensure they’re getting the most out of it. Search ‘Tech Control’ on YouTube to access the video series.

If parents are concerned about tech addiction in the home, we encourage them to consider the following:

  • Set the boundaries: Be clear about the rules you have in place in the home (such as ‘no devices in bedrooms’ or ‘ask for permission before signing up to new games’) and explain how these rules are designed to protect them. Make your children part of the ‘setting boundaries’ process so that they have contributed towards them and are aware of the rationale behind each rule
  • Allow for self-moderation: As your children grow, ideally you’d like to be in a position where they aren’t dependent on you when it comes to responsible use of technology. As they grow and where you feel it’s appropriate, allow them the freedom to use their technology more independently. Watch from a distance and support them where needed as with many other aspects of parenting
  • Lead by example: Demonstrate what responsible use looks like by modelling positive behaviour is invaluable. Be mindful that your children will pick up on the relationship you have with your technology so where possible show them that eating without devices at the table or sleeping without devices within reaching distance is preferable
  • Keep talking: Be inquisitive and interested about all aspects of your children’s digital lives. Give them the opportunity to open up to you about any worries or concerns they may have without fear of judgement
  • Speak to other parents: Where appropriate, work with the parents of children within your child’s close friendship group to agree together on any boundaries or restrictions you want to enforce and to share any concerns or positive stories with one another. For example, you may agree that your children will be able to enjoy gaming for set times at the weekend but not throughout the week

Remember the positives: It’s all too easy to get caught up with the negative aspects of technology and disregard the benefits. Younger generations have the ability to be more informed, connected, creative even entrepreneurial than older generations could ever have imagined. When used safely and responsibility your children will benefit from these positives so remember to focus on the benefits.


Digital Awareness UK is an online safety organisation with a team of tech experts including YouTubers, hackers, bloggers and coders who use their knowledge to educate young people, parents and teachers on how to survive and thrive on social media. They run workshops, CPD and parent events tackling today's biggest trends - from netiquette to sexting. For more information visit or contact us at 

Twitter @digitalsisters  |  Facebook  @digitalawarenessuk 

Released On 17th Jan 2019

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