Each new generation of teenagers is faced with unique challenges and difficulties specific to their peer group and time in history. What seems to be a universal experience and major roadblock to all generations is navigating the seemingly never-ending pool of “things” that their parents are afraid of. I have no idea how I navigated Heavy Metal, Dungeons and Dragons, Rap Music, MTV, CD’s, IPODs, Porn, Video Games, Internet and now Social Media and Virtual Reality.
The current focus of fear seems to be directly related to screen time and social media. While headlines would have parents in a frenzied state, believing that extended screen time and social media are leading to epic proportions of depression, anxiety, poor school performance and even suicide, an examination of the research, at best, shows some minimal correlation to these issues but almost zero causation. I have yet to read research that links screen time as a direct cause of any mental health issue.
A recent study published in “Child Development” by Andrew Pryzybylski indicated that there was no significant link between screen time and overall well being in 2-5 year olds. Almost all guidelines and suggestions for screen time are based on sedentary issues as compared to actual issues related to screen time or social media. While a lack of research outcomes does not indicate that there are not concerns or possible links, it can give us, at least, pause to not overreact or make decisions based on speculation or fear.
It is clear that there are teenagers that do have significant issues related to screen time and social media. There is no doubt that gaming addictions, pornography addiction, social media obsession and other forms of media present significant issues for some teenagers. But to attribute these to the whole or conclude that the media or medium itself is the issue would be an overreach and possibly create bias in providing appropriate guidelines and treatment. This is a particular concern for professionals who, as a result of availability bias, may conclude that the clients they are seeing on a day-to-day basis constitute the whole.
There are some practical and evidence-based guidelines that parents could lean on in making decisions on screen time and social media. A Belgian study found that a teens’ sleep is affected by screen time and that if parents require phones or screens to be turned off or turned in at night, that this drastically reduces sleep issues. Again, it’s not the screens themselves or social media, but the lack of sleep hygiene that is an issue here. Parental involvement and basic limits on “Lights Out” seem to be able to curtail these issues.
As mentioned above, a sedentary lifestyle seem to be one of the biggest issues affecting children, teenagers and young adults. Guidelines from almost all health organizations indicate that an hour of physical activity a day would drastically reduce issues related to this lifestyle. As with most parenting issues a focus on proactive engagement, as compared to a fear based or limiting approach would benefit them more. Savvy parents and professionals would be wise to consider each teen (adolescent) individually when choosing guidelines and expectations around screen time and social media. A pro-active focus, based on a balanced lifestyle that would consider education, family, social and peer life, adventure based living, team and individual sports, the arts and religion may benefit a teen more than limits on screen time.
In conclusion, consider the following
Fortnite is the latest craze in video gaming and a consistent conversation of concern and fear with many parents. Fortnite, a $2 million dollars/day business, is played predominantly by males whose average age is 18-24 and. In comparison, Candy Crush, which is predominantly played by women between the ages of 25-40 makes around 4.5 million dollars a day and nearly doubles Fortnite in monthly revenue of close to 128 million. It is the most popular game on the Android system and makes more money a year than any NFL franchise;it is valued at almost the same amount as the Dallas Cowboys. It is clear that many parents could reduce their fear of too much screen time or social media by putting down their own phones, turning off the game and going for a walk with their kids.
About the Author
Derek Bowles, LCSW is a co-founder of Crossroads Academy and Crossroads Young Adult programs (UT), where teens and young adults have 20-25 hours a week of Adventure-based living including Snowboarding/Skiing, rock climbing and skateboarding and go to the local gym daily. Derek received an MSW degree from Brigham Young University (BYU). He has been a practicing therapist since 2001. Derek has been married for 24 years to Cariane Bowles and they have 3 children. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram @SavvyParenting.
Here are the two studies that Derek references: