The amount of screen time that teens experience is a hot topic today because of how serious it can be. Teens and screen time go hand in hand, and yet, even if your teen loves to be playing with their phone, it might be bad for them. Teens today spend more time viewing a screen than any group of people has ever before, which means that it’s critical to understand exactly what screen time is doing to their bodies and minds.
On the other hand, you’re probably going to have a difficult time regulating your teen’s screen time. Cell phones are your teen’s primary way of communicating with their friends, and the current generation of teens loves to be connected at all times. It’s also very tough to set a good example for your child regarding screen time when you have your screen time addiction to master.
Likewise, even if your child isn’t very social, the endless expanses of the internet make for the perfect conditions to explore educational material – a constructive use of screen time to be sure, but screen time nonetheless. Where you decide to draw the line is up to you.
In this article, we’ll investigate teens and screen time and the connection between teen depression and screen time. We’ve written this article so that you can be informed about the consequences of screen time and to give you a few ideas about regulating screen time.
What Is Screen Time?
In short, screen time is the amount of time that a person spends in front of a digital electronic display. Screen time refers to time spent on mobile phones, computers, televisions, iPads, movie theatre screens, and everything in between. Most teens are screen time addicts, with cell phones being the primary culprit. The runners-up are computer screens and TV screens; movie screens are a distant last place.
Screen time for kids is somewhat inevitable. There are too many reasons why your child or teen will need to be using a screen. Between schoolwork and leisure, it’s easy to imagine that your teen will be spending upwards of 12 hours a day looking at a screen. Screen time isn’t innocuous, however.
How Is Much Screen Time Too Much?
It’s common sense that spending too much time in front of a screen is detrimental, but the details may surprise you. Unlike historical understandings of screen time, modern research has shown that the biggest threat of staring at a screen is not mere damage to your eyes.
Screen time can disrupt sleep schedules, cause an increase in fast food consumption, cognitive rigidity, and reduced alertness. These issues are particularly dangerous for teens, who are already undergoing a variety of bodily changes which can throw off their mental and physical health in ways they can’t control.
So, how much screen time should your teen have each day? The proper amount of screen time depends heavily on the age of the person. For infants, less than two hours per day is appropriate, with many sources advocating no screen time at all.
Teens and screen time are a little bit more flexible regarding what they can tolerate.
Teens can weather the impact of screen time without as many negative health effects as younger children, but there’s still a direct relationship between the amount of time that teens spend looking at a screen and their well-being. High amounts of screen time have been directly correlated with lower self-esteem, lower life satisfaction, and lower happiness – and these effects accelerate for all kids who have used a phone since 2012.
Spending more time away from screens made teens happier, to a point. It’s important to note that the road to happiness isn’t necessarily screen-free, however. Once teens spend fewer than two hours per day looking at screens, they don’t derive any further benefits from reducing their screen time.
There are still a lot of niches for researchers to flesh out with future studies, but for now, the verdict seems to be that anything beyond the bare minimum of screen time has a large chance of being broadly detrimental. There are exceptions, of course; most research accounts qualify their findings by stating that if screen time is the only way for a teen to socialize with their peers it’s better than nothing. Total isolation except for a screen is not a common scenario, however.
Many screens are designed to be purposefully addictive, which means that if you give your teen permission to use them for a little while each day, they’re likely using them for far longer than they should be thanks to build-in incentives to keep going on.
What Can Screen Time Do For Teens?
Screen time tends to be an element of a sedentary lifestyle, which has a broad spectrum of negative physical and mental effects. Aside from the impacts above on sleep, cognition, and fast food consumption, screen time also causes teens to fear missing out thanks to being constantly barraged with information about their friends’ activities.
While the healthiest way to deal with these emotions is to learn to cope with them, teens don’t have the level of emotional control that is necessary to control their emotions gracefully. Knowledge about what their friends are doing can breed jealousy and anxiety.
It’s important to remember that even if only a portion of a teen’s time is sedentary screen time, it’s impossible to make up for the damage caused by the sedentary screen time by exercising actively. This fact means that it’s better to avoid long periods of sedentary screen time even if your teen is very active for most of the time.
Too much screen time for kids can cause weight gain, depression, obsessive anxiety, social withdrawal, social discourse issues, and even attentional issues. Teens health is widely considered to suffer from increasing amounts of screen time. While there’s no direct association between screen time and disorders popularly mentioned alongside screen time like ADHD, if your child does have ADHD, screen time can be even more addictive and detrimental. For every special need that your child has, additional screen time is likely an additional burden that healthy children don’t face when they look at a screen.
Is Screen Time Beneficial?
Some accounts claim that screen time can be beneficial for kids. These perspectives typically raise several valid points, but you should still be careful about accepting them.
In particular, those who claim that screen time will be beneficial will reference the beneficial impact of activities like certain video games. While it’s true that playing certain video games can make people better at specific tasks, these are typically not the kinds of games that your youth will be playing. For instance, you wouldn’t be too surprised if playing a surgery simulation game made you better at a certain surgical technique, but you’d be very surprised if playing Call of Duty made you better at math.
Likewise, screen time proponents praise the babysitting ability of screens. It’s true that parents sometimes need a break, but once your child is a teen, the utility of a screen is much lower because teens don’t need close supervision anyway.
Let’s suppose that you are using screen time to bond with your child, however. This has the potential to be a very positive use of screen time. Spending time with your child doing any activity is a great way to bond with them and maybe teach them a few lessons, too. Make sure that you’re keeping track of your own screen time in the meantime.
Regulating Screen Time
Teens and screen time gravitate toward each other, but as a parent, you need to know when to say no. Setting a limit on the amount of screen time each day is unlikely to work for your older teens, but it may be effective for your younger teens or infants.
Likewise, a laissez-faire screen time policy isn’t going to be healthy for your teen. The best way to regulate screen time is to exercise control over the kind of activity that your teen can do while using a screen. Remember, your teen probably won’t want to spend hours reading their school textbooks online – but you should leave the door open to that possibility just in case. Limit the amount of time your teen spends surfing the internet, playing video games, or using social media.
By controlling the activities that your teen performs on a screen, your teen will learn to view screen time as a daily resource that should be directed towards productive activities rather than aimlessly burning time. You’ll probably be successful in reducing the total amount of time that your child spends looking at a screen as a result of the shift in their mindset. If not, don’t be afraid to get creative by doing things like spending screen time alongside your child.