Screens and Teens

Today’s teenagers live in a world that is strikingly different than the world of their parents.  Parents of today’s teens spent time playing with the neighborhood gang until dark and riding their bikes to the neighborhood pool, while today’s teens are spending their free time sending pictures to their social media friends and playing Fortnight for hours on end.  Another difference in these generations is the increase of anxiety and depression. According to the latest research, in the past two decades, anxiety and depression have risen a shocking 70% in teenagers. Another study shows that since smartphones were introduced in 2007, the suicide rate among teenage girls has increased 65%.  These statistics are pretty shocking and troublesome, and they leave many of us asking, “Why?”

Many arguments can be made as to why anxiety, depression, and suicide among teenagers are on the rise, and the reasons are certainly more complex than a one step, quick fix.  However, what we do know is that more and more research is coming out linking an increase in teenage anxiety and depression to increased screen time, particularly screen time on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.  It is reported that 50% of teenagers admit being addicted to social media. 20% of teenagers spend more than a whopping 7 hours a day on screens. Furthermore, even teens who spend 3 or more hours a day on screens, have shown not only higher levels of anxiety and depression, but also increased distractability, low emotional stability, and a difficult time making and keeping friends.

Another problem that is associated with the use of screen time and social media, is that it is interfering with sleep.  Teenagers need an average of 9 hours of sleep a night. In today’s world, many teenagers are going to bed with their smartphones, and this is interfering with their sleep.  Having a smartphone at bedtime, replaces the sleep time that teenagers need. The light from screens also suppresses melotonin in the body. Additionally, the content being viewed by teenagers on their smartphones stimulates the brain, making it hard for them to fall asleep.

What can parents do about this crisis going on in today’s teens?  How can we help our teens learn to make smarter choices with their smartphones and other screens?  Here are some tips:

  1. Delay the age in giving your child a smartphone, particularly during the middle school years.  Many parents often express that they regret giving their child a smartphone so young. During middle school, teens are going through many physiological changes, and their brains are still very underdeveloped.  They cannot be expected to make wise choices in regards to screens, smartphones, and social media.
  2. When a child does show readiness to have a phone, buy an additional “family phone”  instead of buying your child a phone that is exclusively his or hers. Let your child know that this phone belongs to the family but that they can use it when needed.  You can set those boundaries appropriately.
  3. Have your child check in all screens, along with their smartphone, or the “family phone” at night.  Have them charge the phone in your room, along with the other screens. This sets a healthy boundary for the whole family.  Setting this boundary that screens are not allowed at bedtime helps to protect your child’s sleep and mental state.
  4. Set boundaries on how much time social media apps can be used.  Phones have settings for parents to set restrictions on which sites and apps can be used.  Use these settings.
  5. Identity with your teen, and be a part of the solution.  Have open dialogue with your teen about the struggles of becoming addicted to social media, and share with them that adults struggle with this too.  Have certain times throughout the day, maybe from 6-8 at night, when family members cannot use smartphones, and spend that time doing homework, chores, or connecting as a family.  Participate in these boundaries, too, so that you are setting an example for your teen.

If you find that your teen has become addicted to screens or social media, and you are struggling with how to handle this problem, we would love to work with your family.  Our counselors have helped many teens, parents, and families work through these issues, set appropriate boundaries, and take their family back into a healthy place. We would love to help you, too.  Give us a call at 912-319-5552.