(The following is the first of two essays regarding the impact of the modern digital revolution, and uses a term for the negative impact on the brains and behavior of adolescents that is the downside of the digital revolution.)
Today, it seems many teenagers can barely walk from point A to point B without wearing headphones? Why are five people sitting in a car so often observed talking to five people outside the same car via cell phone? A family is observed dining out together-all engaging someone else, or something else, other than their family via a techno-gadget or cell phone. These situations are not uncommon. The implications for relationships are obvious; but, few know what to call this phenomenon or what to do about it. And even fewer have pondered the devastating implications of it for individuals, families, the church, or for the culture at large. When do people-especially teenagers-take time to contemplate the deeper issues of life-such as origin, meaning, morality, and destiny? Studies show they don't. In fact, biologically, many can't! Look around; the frightening implications of anhedonia are everywhere for those who can still think!
WHAT IS ANHEDONIA? According to Dr. Archibald Hart, anhedonia is a destruction of the pleasure center in the brain. Most mental health care professionals understand it only as a manifestation of depression and are mistakenly dispensing medications that too often only complicate the problem. Dr. Hart writes in his book, "Thrilled to Death" that anhedonia is also a condition independent of depression. It comes largely from the over stimulation of pleasurable and exciting activities along with multitasking. Dr. Hart claims that Modern technology is a prime vehicle for anhedonia in teenagers today. He claims 80% of the American public suffer with it from one degree or the other. I would say, in the teenage population, unless one is Amish, it's virtually one hundred percent! It's just a matter of degree. The brain was never designed to handle the degree of stimuli that so many Americans, today indulge in so often and for so long. Anhedonia could be considered a much more subtle and effective form of slavery.
A troubled teen often results when his excitement and adrenaline level must be regularly amped up until the very thing that used to bring him pleasure now bores him to tears. Lethargy, depression, anger, rage, and self destruction are the natural progression. His insatiable pursuit often leads to habits and addictions-too often sinful or harmful addictions. But, an anhedonic teen can also be addicted to things that are otherwise healthy, such as food, exercise, music, technology, etc. What seems to be capturing this generation is an addiction to technology and the excitement and pleasure it brings virtually around the clock. As Junior engages in endless pursuits of technology at home, parents falsely assume that because Junior isn't pursuing sinful vices in the streets that they can breathe easy. Unfortunately, these gadgets are too often being used for warping the minds, emotions, and spirits of those captivated by them. Unhealthy attitudes, behaviors, and relationships result---rivaling that of other vices.
It's never been 2010 before. With every new generation come more new and more complicated issues that parents must keep abreast of. At the turn of the 20th century, when technology was moving at the speed of sound, the automobile, telephone, and the radio, were just a few of the many technological advances that forced parents to deal with new scenarios not faced by previous generations. It took decades for their posterity to realize all the precautions needed to engage in these new inventions safely. How many people had to be injured and killed in automobiles before we realized brakes, turn signals, headlights, horns, seat belts, etc, were a good idea? Today's dangers are much greater, though they don't immediately manifest themselves in the physical domain. In time, unfortunately, they do. Troubled teens, today, are harming themselves and killing themselves in record numbers. They are microwaving their souls from the inside out; yet few realize it---largely because we have become a society whose worldview is preeminently based on empirical evidence only.
Today, with technology now moving at the speed of light, we are yet to fully understand all of the negative effects to the critical, constructive, and creative thinking capacities of the brain caused by the abuse of technology-much less prevent them. But, we do know this damage is real. Atrophy takes place in these areas of the brain that push-button technology is largely responsible for. Just try getting your order right at McDonald's these days! This is not to mention its effect on the areas of the human experience that cannot be measured empirically, such as the heart, mind, emotions and spirit. We at SHF understand that if an anhedonic troubled teen cannot think critically, constructively, or creatively, his capacity to love and think and empathize like God through a biblical worldview drastically diminishes. God becomes an abstract too difficult and boring for the anhedonic brain to conceive or desire. It is virtually impossible for him to acquire a congruent understanding of Scripture, because bible study, like homework, becomes an exercise in mental brutality.
The good news is that anhedonia is reversible-but, it doesn't come through medications! It comes by engaging the teen in some form of critical, constructive, or creative thinking activity-preferably using his hands, feet, and back. But, because of many parents' out-of-control situations with their teens at home, they're often helpless to make their teens engage in the activities necessary to rebuild the pleasure centers in their brains. Pulling the plug on TV might be a start. SHF offers the perfect environment to engage teens in these healing activities. Teens get a chance to enjoy the endless array of healthy and wholesome activities that God has given teens to enjoy life with. This happens when teens are relieved of the many negative influences of our culture and are immersed in an outdoor wilderness-type environment that requires these thinking skills for the most fundamental details of life-without all the technology. Once a teen's full mental faculties are returned to him, he is much more likely to accept the logical and natural God-given truths of life-especially as they pertain to moral living and eternal destiny. In turn, his ability to make independent choices that are congruent with healthy living becomes an outworking of his heart change induced by the loving year-long Christ-centered authoritative community environment that Shepherd's Hill Farm provides. But, without the understanding of how so much of our culturally-induced (i.e. technology) stimuli is affecting our teens through anhedonia, the positive changes we see in teenagers wouldn't be as drastic or happen as often as they do. This understanding is just one of the things that makes Shepherd's Hill Farm a wise choice for parents of a troubled teen.
Trace and Beth Embry are the Director and Assistant Director of Shepherd's Hill Farm, a Christian oriented residential outdoor program for struggling teens. They can be contacted at 706-779-5766, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.shepherdshillfarm.org.