While the world has been focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, an underlying, hidden pandemic has been growing – screen time among teenagers. Some studies show that teens spend close to nine hours a day online, ranging from being on the phone, watching TV or playing video games. Approximately three-quarters of teens own a smartphone and half of them feel addicted to using their phones. Fortunately, there are proactive ways for parents to tackle this issue including establishing screen time limits for their teens.
Since many students have been doing online school, they have more time to scroll aimlessly through social media and spend hours on their phones. Some parents are working from home while others are working in the office, so their attention is not often geared toward their teens’ screen time. Free time among teenagers can often breed unhealthy habits if gone unchecked.
Neuropsychologist at Children’s of Alabama, Dr. Dan Marullo, offers insights on teens partaking in too much screen time. “Too much screen time in teens can lead to comparison to others and belief that their life is not as good as the people they follow,” Marullo said.
The false ideal of perfection on social media contributes to low self-esteem and eventually could develop into mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression, if not addressed.
Too much screen time in teens interferes with physical activity, homework, sleep, social activities with friends and time spent with family. It also can lead to attention problems, a higher incidence of depression, anxiety and exposure to unsafe content and contacts. Screen time can lead to obesity due to increased sedentary activity, mindless eating and interference with normal sleeping patterns. Lack of sleep contributes to problems with mood, attention and learning.
Some phone activities can be productive, including researching for a school project, engaging in creative outlets or interacting with friends on online platforms. However, many activities are unproductive or harmful for teens, including visiting unsafe websites, playing violent video games, watching inappropriate TV shows, sexting and engaging with strangers who pose a threat online. Cyberbullying, which is using the internet, cell phone or other technology to send texts or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person, can be an outcome of too much screen time as well.
Dr. Marullo suggests monitoring and limiting your teen’s screen time to no more than a couple hours per day outside of schoolwork.
Parents should remember these tips when forming a healthy screen time habit for their teens:
- Monitor social media sites, apps and browsing history.
- Research video and computer games before letting your teen get them. Preview games with your teen to see what they are like.
- Review or reset the phone location and privacy settings.
- Follow or friend your teen on social media sites or get a trusted adult friend to do so.
- Ensure your teen has a wide range of free-time activities (spending time with friends, playing sports, volunteer work, being involved in school clubs, etc.). Less free time can lead to less time spent on screens!
- Turn off all screens during family meals and when your teen goes to bed. Keep devices with screens out of your teen’s room after bedtime.
- Know your teen’s usernames and passwords.
- Consider screen time a special privilege that teens need to earn, not a right to which they are entitled.
- Stay up to date on the latest apps, social media platforms and digital slang.
- Use screening tools for phones, TV, tablets and computers to limit access to certain content.
- Teach your teen about internet and social media safety, ensuring they know the dangers of sharing private information online or sexting.
- Teach positive, respectful digital behavior.
- Keep the computer in a common area so you can monitor their online activity.