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How Screen Time Is Harming Teenagers' Mental Health

5 ways parents can intervene to help teens with a healthy digital life.

Key points

  • A new study reveals that screen media use is up 17% since the start of the pandemic among teens and tweens.
  • Technology is affecting teens' sleep and mental health.
  • A report shows that two-thirds of parents blame technology for making parenting more difficult today with kids.
  • About one-quarter of teens want their parents to impose time limits on their smartphone use.
Source: NatureAddict/Pixabay

Technology is not going away; it's only evolving. It's time to stop complaining about it, and start working towards helping our kids with coping skills to handle it.

This can be difficult since some of us weren't raised with a smartphone in our hand, while others might be just as obsessed with their social media.

How do we find that healthy balance?

Let's start by considering what is happening and why it's so important to intervene.

The health of our youth

A new survey released by Common Sense Media shares that since the start of the pandemic the use of screen media has increased by 17 percent. Kids, ages 8-18, are spending an excessive amount of time on social platforms outside of school.

A Pew Research report in 2020 shared that the majority of parents (66 percent) are finding parenting very difficult due to social media and technology. Teens and tweens are online constantly and it's impacting their mental health.

Teens today are facing unprecedented stress, anxiety and depression since the pandemic with 41 percent of them blaming the overuse of social media, according to one mental health report.

5 Ways to a healthy digital life

In order to have a healthy digital life, the entire family needs to be part of the plan. The truth is, teens want limits. In a Screen Education survey, 26 percent of teens said they wished that someone would impose screen time limits. It's never too late to start.

1. Smartphone contract. If you don't have one, it's time to create one. List your teen's responsibilities and limits, the consequences, and your responsibilities as the parent.

2. Limit notifications on smartphones. All those dings, rings, buzzes and sounds are added triggers that set off stressors. Have your teen choose three apps (or whatever you are comfortable with) for sounds. The others they can manually check periodically.

3. Create daily device-free time. Whether it's dinner time, before bedtime, or one to two hours in the afternoon or morning, develop a schedule when no one is staring at screens.

4. Lights-out, screens-off. Technology is affecting teens' sleep and mental health. It's up to parents to remove their phones from the bedrooms. You are a parent first. Simply asking them to turn it off is not the answer.

5. Respect. This generation (sometimes) needs to be reminded about old-fashioned respect. If you are with others (family, friends, in a store, checking out, at a restaurant, or any activity that involves others), have respect for the people around you. Don't engage on your devices. That is digital-free time.

Most importantly for parents, which I didn't list, since most know this already, is to lead by example. If your teen watches you texting and driving, you are basically giving them the green light to do the same. So think twice about your own cell phone habits—your kids are watching.


Common Sense Media Survey 2021

PEW Research Report 2020

University of Buffalo Study 2019

Screen Education Survey 2018

Teen Mental Health Survey 2020

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