Jean Twenge’s recent article, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” has not only taken the Internet by storm, it also has many parents concerned about the connection between screen time and their kids’ mental health. In the article, Twenge identifies people born between 1995 and 2012 as “iGen.” These are young people who have never lived without the Internet, and who spend an inordinate amount of time on screens. Twenge argues that this has led to an explosion of depression, loneliness, sleep deprivation and even suicide.
“Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.” –Jean Twenge, author iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us”
While some parents might read the article and consider putting their children on an extreme digital detox as soon as possible, read a little deeper and you’ll find that Twenge’s research is much more of an argument for screen time balance and not total abstinence from digital devices.
How Screen Time Hurts Kids’ Mental Health
- Eighth-graders who spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56 percent more likely to say they’re unhappy than those who devote less time to social media.
- Eighth-graders who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27 percent
- Eighth-graders who play sports, go to religious services, or even do homework more than the average teen cut their risk of depression significantly.
- The number of teens who get together with their friends nearly every day dropped by more than 40 percent from 2000 to 2015; the decline has been especially steep recently.
- Fifty-seven percent more teens were sleep deprived in 2015 than in 1991. In just the four years from 2012 to 2015, 22 percent more teens failed to get seven hours of sleep.
How Parents Protect Teens on Social Networks
Manage Social Media
Managing the amount of time kids are on social media is critical. “Hyper-networked” teens, those who spend more than two hours per day on social networks, are known to have not only higher rates of depression and loneliness, but are also involved in more incidences of cyberbullying (both as victim and perpetrator)*1. Therefore it is critical for parents to manage how much time is spent on networks like Snapchat, Musical.ly, Instagram and Facebook.
Keep Kids Off Devices at Night
Late night screen time has been proven to be some of the most detrimental to both children and teens. Not only do blue-light emitting devices (all smartphones and tablets) compromise sleep quality*2, late night screen time has also been associated with lower self-esteem and coping abilities in teens.*3
Ensure Kids Are Involved in Non-Screen Activities
There is no greater takeaway to the article than to ensure that kids maintain a healthy involvement in off-screen activities. Church, community gatherings and organized sports*4 are just some ways to keep kids connected and less susceptible to depression, loneliness and suicide. Another study revealed that four or more family dinners per week protect teens not just from being cyberbullied, but from the devastating impacts if they are experiencing the issue*5.