6 Truths About Teens and Screen Time

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We see the headlines and hear murmurs from friends and school organizations - we know that there are some issues with screen time and our kids, but is it really that serious? Dr. Tim Jordan, the author of Sleeping Beauties, Awakened Women: Guiding the Transformation of Adolescent Girls notes below how teens' screen time use has evolved for Generation Z.

Past generations of parents hung out with friends down the street or at skating rinks etc. Today, we have shrunken teen’s geographic freedom because of our fears, and their busy, supervised schedules don’t allow for down time. So we have forced them to hang out online, even though every teen I know would rather socialize in person. - Dr. Tim Jordan, Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrician

In order to react and respond, we have to take a look at the real impact screen time is having on our kids, so here are 6 truths about teens and screen time.

1. 50% of teens feel addicted to their mobile devices.

According to a poll, conducted by Common Sense Media, half of all teens feel addicted to their mobiles devices and 78% of teens report checking their devices hourly.

I think about how often I check my mobile device, which is pretty regularly, but it is nowhere near as important to my daily life as it is for teens. To be checking your device hourly during your waking hours has got to be downright exhausting.

2. The majority of socialization takes place through social media.

According to Pew Research Center, 72% of all teens spend time with friends via social media. With texting as the number one method of communication among teens, it’s easy to see how pervasive the use of screen devices is among teens. And for those teens that do not have mobile devices, there are the very real effects of FoMO, or fear of missing out.

3. Increased screen time is linked to depression and suicidal thoughts.

After analyzing data from from over 500,000 teens, scientists found a link between increased screen time and depression in teens. Of those teens, ages 13 to 18, females had the highest reported rates of depression and suicidal thoughts, suggesting that girls are more susceptible than boys to the effects of screen time.

The good news, however, is that the same researchers had study findings that linked less or limited screen time, in-person socialization, and exercise, to fewer depressive symptoms. 

In essence, the less our teen’s lives are spent with screens, the happier they are. It’s sad that we need a study to point out what most of us already know - less time tied to screens and devices leads to a better quality of life and overall happiness.

4. Screen time is robbing teens of sleep.

In recent years, there has been a movement to push back the start of the school day for high schools, to allow for optimal hours of sleep during the school week. Critics argue that many teens are simply going to bed later as a result of the later school start time, so the point is mute. 

Regardless of your teen’s school start time, if they stay up spending time on their devices, their quality of sleep is sabotaged. In fact, simply using a screen device within an hour of bedtime negatively impacts healthy sleep patterns, which can result in sleep deprivation (and a slew of related problems).

5. Teens are being treated for tech addiction.

I should add that many facilities are open to adults, but the fact that teens are being sent to tech rehabs is scary. On one hand, I’m glad that this resource is available for parents who feel they have no other options, on the other, what does this say about our society?

6. Tech and social media developers limit their kids’ access to the technology they create.

Yep. Steve Jobs’ kids weren’t allowed to use the iPad when it came out, and he was candid about the fact that he and his wife limited the technology their kids were allowed to use at home. Bill Gates? He and his wife limited screen time in the home after his daughter developed an unhealthy gaming habit.

It’s scary to think that the creators of the most popular devices today knew enough to keep their kids away from what they were creating, and it’s frightening to see how much screen time is affecting our teens. 

The reality is that many American families, including my own, can greatly benefit from analyzing their own time with devices. When you’re ready to make a change, know that setting tech boundaries can help set families on the path to less screen time and greater quality of life.

About Lauren B. Stevens

Lauren B. Stevens is a writer, editor & digital parent, whose pieces have been published across the internet and featured in several print anthologies. Lauren lives in the Baltimore area with her husband and son, and enjoys spending her family time hiking and traveling.

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