The Effects of Screen Time Among Youth
According to a new report, The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens, 2019, American teenagers spend an average of more than seven hours per day on screen media for entertainment, and tweens spend nearly five hours. Note that those averages do not include time spent using screens for school and homework. And in another 2018 study by the Pew Research Center, 95% of U.S. teens say they have access to a smartphone, and 45% self-report that they are “almost constantly” on the internet.
With so much of our youth’s time spent on screens, it’s important that parents have an understanding of the latest information about how teens use their screen time and the impact it might have on their well-being.
In the Pew Research Center survey, teens provided a great deal of information about how they are using their smartphones:
- The vast majority (9 in 10) of teens say they use their smartphone as a way to just pass time.
- 84% of teens say they often or sometimes use their phone to connect with other people.
- 83% of teens say they often or sometimes use their phone to learn new things.
- 43% of teens say they often or sometimes use their smartphone to avoid interacting with people face-to-face.
- 75% of teens said they often or sometimes checked their messages or notifications as soon as they woke up.
- Tweens say they enjoy watching online videos more than any other screen media activity now.
- 54% of teens worry they spend too much time on their phone.
Smartphones are a staple of the American teen life, and in many ways, the technology has provided teens many benefits. However, it’s important that parents understand how their teens are using their phone and to warn their teens about potential problems with screen time.
In the Pew Research Center survey, more than half of teens (56%) associated the absence of their phone with at least one of three emotions: loneliness, being upset or feeling anxious. Girls were more likely than boys to feel anxious or lonely without their phone.
Although several studies in the past have linked teen social media use to depression, the Pew Research Center survey did not find a clear consensus among teens about the effect that social media has on their lives. Teens self-reported the effect of social media as follows: 31% mostly positive; 24% mostly negative, and 45% neither positive nor negative. Of those who reported the effect as negative, almost 30% felt that social media has led to more bullying and rumor-spreading.
However, new research published in the journal The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health in August 2019 not only found a link between social media use and depression, but more importantly, also found some interesting reasons for that link. The study interviewed almost 10,000 children between the ages of 13 and 16 in England. Researchers found that social media use harmed girls’ mental health by: (1) increasing their exposure to bullying, and (2) reducing their sleep and physical exercise.
“Our results suggest that social media itself doesn’t cause harm, but that frequent use may disrupt activities that have a positive impact on mental health such as sleeping and exercising, while increasing exposure of young people to harmful content, particularly the negative experience of cyber-bullying,” study co-author Russell Viner of the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health said in a statement.
To combat this problem, parents should take an active role in their teen’s phone use. Monitor your teen’s social media accounts to limit their exposure to cyberbullying. Create a “phone curfew” so that all phones in your home are plugged into a central charging area (away from bedrooms) by a certain time each night to protect everyone’s sleep. Experts say that teenagers need 9 hours of sleep each night to perform and feel their best. And finally, prioritize exercise in your home. Encourage everyone in your family to get moving each day. This can mean working out, bike riding around the neighborhood, taking the dog for a walk, playing sports, or even shooting hoops in the driveway. Just get your teens off their phone long enough to elevate their heart rate each day and you will see an improvement in their overall mental health.
Most parents have warned their teenagers to not share personal information online as a safety precaution. The problem is that our teens are not always aware what information is considered personal nor do they always know what online actions they could take that might share their information without them meaning to.
Many children believe that not sharing personal information means to not post their address or phone number. However, there are a number of teens who don’t realize they can also be identified and targeted when they post their school name and location, their friends’ names, and their parents’ workplaces. Make sure you give your teen a refresher in what constitutes personal information.
Additionally, warn your teens against changing their account settings on social media without talking to you first. Some teens, after setting up privacy settings with their parents, later change those settings, not realizing that they are exposing more of their information. In 2016, Instagram announced new features for “business” profiles, including access to advanced analytics tools for understanding how many people were viewing an account’s pictures and videos. Teens really like getting these digital popularity scores, so many teens converted their Instagram account to a business profile. The problem is that business accounts share addresses, phone numbers, and e-mails. Teens did not even realize that the account change they made exposed their personal information.
For more information about the effects of social media on teens and tips for how parents can best address these effects, please read our previous blog, Effects of Social Media on Teens.