Teen alert on screen time


ir­ri­ta­ble or ag­gres­sive. But it’s the way of the fu­ture af­ter all?

It shouldn’t be. From the 1960s to the 2000s, mea­sures of well­be­ing rose con­sis­tently, es­pe­cially for teens. This data mea­sures things like self­es­teem, hap­pi­ness, job sat­is­fac­tion and friend­ships.

Since 2012, how­ever, the trend started to re­verse and data shows well­be­ing steadily de­creas­ing. It is also the year smart­phone own­er­ship tipped over to the ma­jor­ity of mo­bile phone users; the year their use be­came wide­spread among teens. And, it’s the year data shows a surge in de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety and sui­cide.

A new study shows this is not just co­in­ci­dence. More than 1.1 mil­lion young peo­ple an­swered ques­tions on their well­be­ing and screen time. The data showed too much screen time is toxic. Teens who spend more time on screen ac­tiv­i­ties are more likely to be un­happy, de­pressed, anx­ious and even sui­ci­dal. In fact, nearly half of teens who spent five or more hours a day on a de­vice had con­tem­plated, planned or at­tempted sui­cide.

Our teens are in the midst of a men­tal health cri­sis, and screens are a con­trib­u­tor to the prob­lem.

But it’s not all bad news. Univer­sity of Ox­ford re­searchers have dis­cov­ered there is a point be­tween low and high use of tech­nol­ogy that is “just right” for our teens. This is the mag­i­cal in­ter­sec­tion where dig­i­tal con­nec­tion can in­crease cre­ativ­ity, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and de­vel­op­ment, and where well­be­ing is boosted rather than harmed. This is the “Goldilocks Zone”.

It’s our job to help our teens use screens in a way and in an amount that boosts their well­be­ing. There are guide­lines that can help us.

Use your com­mon sense: As par­ents, you know your chil­dren best. Trust your­self. Be dis­cern­ing and ex­er­cise your own good judg­ment when it comes to screen time.

Con­sider con­tent and con­text in de­ter­min­ing lim­its: While some peo­ple get caught up on “how much” screen time is OK, my pref­er­ence is to fo­cus on “what type” of screen time is best. If their screen diet is junk, keep it short, just like you limit the amount of sugar they eat. If they’re do­ing valu­able and le­git­i­mate learn­ing or truly use­ful so­cial things, be more flex­i­ble.

Con­tent mat­ters: So does con­text. It’s not OK to have screens in rooms or at the ta­ble. You may have other rules too. The con­text should de­ter­mine whether kids are OK to be on screens. Friends over? No screens. Chores done, home­work done, and read­ing done? Sure, have some fun on screens. When con­sid­er­ing all the things our kids are miss­ing out on when they are on screens – time to de­velop and deepen re­la­tion­ships, to be cre­ative and to en­gage in phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity – we want to be in­ten­tional about how and when screens are used.

En­cour­age other ac­tiv­i­ties: When your kids ask to play video games or use the tablet, have a list of things ready to sug­gest in­stead. Have you played out­side? Have you spent time with a friend? Have you read a book? Have you ti­died your room?

By en­gag­ing in these types of ac­tiv­i­ties, chil­dren will do much more for their brains, their bod­ies and their well­be­ing. Ac­tive, pos­i­tive use of screens should be en­cour­aged but as par­ents we know when enough is enough. And teens have had enough.

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