It seems harmless, screen time that is. Your child plays video games when they get home from school. They may even watch television for a little while, watch YouTube videos on their cell phones, or message friends through sites like Snapchat.
It could be worse, right? Your child could be hanging out with the wrong crowd, using drugs or alcohol, failing courses, or finding other ways to be rebellious. Compared to others, you have a great child.
Yes, this is all true, except the fact that screen time is harmless. Although you may not be noticing changes right now, too much screen time can be linked to mental health problems in teens.
You are a good parent; you do not want this to happen. The good news is that by reading this article and others like it, you are already taking the right steps to help your teen.
So, let’s get started by defining screen time so you can know exactly what it means.
Defining Screen Time
Screen time refers to any amount of time, from one minute to an hour to five hours, a person spends using any technological device.
Screen time is not only when your teen is playing a video game. It also includes watching television, listening to music on an iPod, watching movies on their gaming console, watching videos on their cell phones, working or playing on a laptop or desktop computer, and spending time on social media sites.
It also includes texting and messaging friends, video recording events, and yes, gaming. And your teen is like most, they are doing two or three or four of these things at the same time. Meaning, they may be gaming, while also listening to music and sending texts to friends.
This is not good. Statistics show these activities can have negative effects on teenagers.
Teen Mental Health & Screen Time Statistics
Pew research reports kids aged 8 to 12 are spending six or more hours per day in front of a screen. Teenagers are spending nine or more hours. There have been alarming results from other studies that show there is a direct link between amount of screen time and teen mental health.
Screen Time and Depression
Screen time does not cause depression in teens. However, there is a link between the two. Reports, books and studies are showing that excessive use of technology is a common factor found in teens who report feeling depressed.
There could be many reasons for this link. Social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are great for socializing. But teens also find themselves comparing the number of likes their posts get to the number of likes their friends receive.
Social media, unfortunately, is also a place where teens can be bullied. And online bullies can be very cruel.
Some teens have even reported feeling suicidal or having thoughts of suicide after being mistreated online. And we know from current news reports, young kids are following through with harming themselves because of social media interactions.
Screen Time and Anxiety
Teenage anxiety symptoms can range from lack of appetite, sleep problems, to full-blown panic attacks. Research is showing some of this anxiety could be due to use of technological devices. The more time spent in front of a screen, the higher the risk for anxiety.
Anxiety can affect a teen’s performance in academic and extra-curricular activities. It can hinder social relationships as well as interfere with family relationships. Most importantly, anxiety can have a negative effect on your teen’s physical health and if not treated, your teen may be tempted to use inappropriate forms of coping, like cutting or substance abuse.
Screen Time & Self-Esteem
US News reports a link between too much screen time and lowered self-esteem among teens. Self-esteem is how your teen evaluates himself or herself. It is the thoughts and feelings they have about their internal and external being.
Self-esteem is not something you can see or touch. But your teen’s actions and words can give you insight. If they are negative, there may be a self-esteem problem.
Depending on what types of programs they are watching on television, online, or on social media, their self-esteem could be affected. If they are comparing themselves to photoshopped images, they have an unrealistic view of what they are supposed to look for.
If they are being bullied online by peers, they may begin believing the untruths the bullies are spreading.
Self-esteem, depression and anxiety are mental health issues that can be fixed.
How to Help Your Teen
As a parent, you want your teen to live a happy and healthy life. You can help them have this life by being more involved. When it comes to allowing screen time, you don’t always need to do what is easiest.
Yes, giving them screen time helps you get chores done and relax from the day, both of which you need to do. However, there are times when you need to deny your teen screen time. Have them help you with chores or find ways to relax together. After all, teens today are very stressed.
One of the most important things you can do for your teen is to get them involved in programs that help support positive mental health. There are facilities in most areas where teens can participate in a variety of activities with other kids their age seeking a boost in their mental health.
Finding the right teen mental health treatment center means doing your research. Seek help from a center who has qualified staff who specialize in your teen’s issues, offers a variety of programs, and includes you and your family in treatment activities.
In conclusion, there is truth to the theory that screen time is connected to mental health problems in teens. While you may not be seeing the negative effects right now, they can still exist. Making changes and seeking help now, before issues progress, is the best way to help your teen succeed.
Screen Time and Sleep
Paradigm Austin is an adolescent mental health and drug treatment center dedicated to identifying, understanding and properly treating the core issues that impact teens and their families.