Teens, screens and mental health

There's no magic formula for protecting teens' mental health in today's digital world. But a new study suggests a strategy that could be the key to keeping depression and anxiety at bay.  

In a large-scale survey of seventh-graders, Canadian researchers found that two or more hours of screen-time posed a risk to teens’ mental health. Many previous studies have shown the same.

What was new here was the finding that  extracurricular activities like sport, music and dance produced the opposite effect. They were protective of kids’ mental and emotional wellbeing, and could be seen as counteracting some of the negative impact of more screen-time.

Screen-time that exceeded two hours daily was linked with lower levels of life satisfaction and optimism, and higher levels of anxiety and depression.  

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Longer hours in front of a screen were particularly harmful for girls, researchers found, with a "significantly more pronounced" association between more screen time and worse mental health.

But for both boys and girls, mental health was best when kids had less screen-time and spent more time in more after-school activities. 

Longer hours in front of a screen were particularly harmful for girls.

The study was based on self-reported data from more than 28,000 students between 2014 and 2018, who answered questions about how much time they spent watching TV, Netflix, YouTube, streaming videos or other screen-based content, and how much time they spent playing computer games.

The students also reported on their participation in after-school activities such as sports, music or arts programs.

Researchers were surprised to find that, even among those students who participated in extracurricular activities, nearly half (46%) exceeded the screen-time limit of two hours recommended by the Canadian Pediatric Society.

Mental health was assessed by asking students to rate indicators such as "I start most days thinking that I will have a good day" on a scale of "disagree" to "agree a lot."

Researchers were surprised to find that, even among those students who participated in extracurricular activities, nearly half (46%) exceeded the screen-time limit of two hours recommended by the Canadian Pediatric Society.

Among teens who didn’t do activities, over two-thirds (67%) went over the recommended limit. 

What parents can do

Doctors at the American Academy of Pediatrics had these tips for parents:

Set limits. The same rules set in the real world should be set in the virtual world. Limit the time your kids spend online. 

Screen time should not equal alone time. Engage with your children when they’re using screens. Offer to watch their television shows or play their video games to ensure their screen time becomes a more social event.

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Technology should not be a reward. Screens are an easy way to calm your child or keep them quiet, but pacifying them with devices is sending all the wrong messages.

Ultimately, kids need to learn how to handle their emotions and manage boredom without the aid of a screen.

Listen to your kids. Ask your children how the digital content they consume makes them feel. Be knowledgeable about the apps and websites your children are using and what information they're accessing online.

Give them the facts. Remind them that what they see online is not an accurate measure of reality, that someone may have taken 30 photos to post that one "candid" shot.

The bottom line, say experts? Teach your kids to enjoy screens in a way that’s smart, safe and sensible. 




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Topics: Cyber Bullying, Parental Controls, Screen time, Pornography, Mobile Apps, Excessive Device Usage, Cyber Safety, teen safety, teens on social media, mental health

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