Since 1991, the psychological well-being of teenagers (self-esteem, life satisfaction, and happiness) along with the amount of time teens spent in various activities has been researched using a national sample of 1.1 million adolescents in grades 8, 10 and 12. The study found that the happiness level of the teens in the survey dropped significantly after 2012. Researchers at San Diego State University and the University of Georgia conducted an analysis of the data to determine the cause of the drop. What they found was that diminished happiness was associated with increased screen time, including playing video games and visiting social media sites, along with increased time spent texting and video chatting. Another recent study found that spending 6 hours or more on screens (smartphones, tablets, desktops or television) increased the risk of suicide in adolescents.
Those of us in the mental health field who work with adolescents often see teens spending increasing amounts of time in the digital world resulting in social isolation, poor sleep, lower academic achievement, increased family conflict, moodiness and aggressive behavior. Sometimes when we ask teens how many friends they have, they might say, “Ten.” When we ask how they spend time with them we find out it is completely online playing video games, texting or chatting. Their contacts may live in their community but often are located out of state. Any attempt by parents to limit the use of these devices frequently results in verbal and sometimes physical confrontation. Parents tell us about teens virtually locking themselves in their room and avoid spending time with the family.
The data from the longitudinal study found that teens who spent less than an hour per day on screen time were the happiest. Teens with lower amounts of the time participated in sports, social activities, reading and hobbies as well as time with their family.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has suggested two hours per day as a reasonable amount of screen time, but they also stress that a balance of activity is important, including social interaction, exercise and getting sufficient sleep. No matter how much time kids spend on screens, they should stop at least one-half hour before going to bed to improve sleep.
My approach is to make finding a balance for how time is spent a family affair. Things like mealtime free of electronic devices by all family members and engaging all in conversation. Family activities such as family game night or movie night and family outings now and then on the weekends are helpful. Encouraging your teen to get involved in a hobby or an after-school activity, club or church youth group are also excellent alternatives.
If your teen is spending excessive time on electronic devices to the point where it is causing social isolation, moodiness, inability to decrease time and poor sleep, they may have become digitally addicted. If you have concerns you should talk with your child’s physician, a school counselor or a mental health professional.