New research shows that teens logging higher-than-average time on social media, TV and computers will show more severe signs of anxiety - but video gaming will have no discernible effect.
Canadian investigators found that, in a given year, young people with high screen-time would develop greater anxiety symptoms. But when screen-time dropped, their symptoms decreased.
Nearly one in four Australian teens are now reporting mental health challenges, according to a recent study by Mission Australia and The Black Dog Institute, while a quarter of US teens aged 13-18 have a generalised anxiety disorder.
Experts increasingly see early intervention as an urgent priority. And they are suggesting managing screen-time could be a key strategy.
Screen-time and anxiety
The North American study, was published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, found evidence that computer use in particular is “uniquely associated” with rising anxiety levels.
Researchers have even called into question whether computer-based homework may be posing a mental health risk.
The findings, based on self-report data from four thousand kids aged 12-16, “suggest that one way to help teens manage anxiety could be to help them limit the amount of time they spend in front of screens,” noted researcher Dr. Patricia Conrod.
One way to help teens manage anxiety could be to help them limit the amount of time they spend in front of screens - researcher Dr. Patricia Conrod.
The findings also suggest that early intervention strategies for at-risk youth could prevent low-level anxiety from escalating into a full-blown clinical mood disorder.
Parenting style and anxiety
Needless to say, screen-time is not the only factor experts see as driving the anxiety epidemic. Parenting styles may also be contributing.
Both overparenting - jumping in to protect and solve problems on a child’s behalf - and parenting that is overly directed towards “achievement” and perfectionism can also create anxiety in teens.
Striking a balance between comfort and challenge is the key to teen mental health, say experts.