Would you be shocked to know that the average teen today spends more hours in front of a screen than we adults spend at work? Seriously, we commonly consider the average workday to be eight hours, and according to a report by Common Sense Media the average teen spends nine hours per day in front of a screen using media for their enjoyment! And, that nine hours does not include time at school or doing homework. That is staggering! To add more context, nine hours a day is more the average teen sleeps every 24-hours and more time than they spend with their parents and teachers.
For the average teen, roughly six-and-a-half of those are spent on social media. Kids from eight to twelve-years-old spend a bit over four hours a day consuming social media. This is significant! It is no wonder that Apple CEO Tim Cook stated that he would not want his nephew on social media, and prior to his death, Apple founder Steve Jobs stated that he didn’t want his own kids to own an iPad. They saw the inherent danger these devices posed for young people.
There have been some studies that show some positive benefits of social media, in particular one conducted by UNICEF that stated “some time” on social media is actually good, and that there “may” be some benefit to the development of social relationships. Students do connect with friends and stay up to speed on what is happening in the world. That said, significant research points to the fact that too much time on a screen is detrimental to our mental health. Dr. Adrian Ward from the University of Texas has concluded that the more dependent we are on our smartphone, the more our cognitive skills and abilities decline. He also shares that in some sense we become delusional as to how smart we are because we cannot separate what we really know from what we can access from the device.
Jean Twenge, a Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University, started noticing a significant change in teenagers around 2012 to the extent that she an her colleagues started looking much closer at the mental health of 13- to 18-year-olds. Over a five year period they recorded drastic jumps in diagnosed cases of depression (33% increase), suicide attempts (23% increase), and successful suicides (31% increase). Their conclusion that teens today are much more likely to experience mental health issues than their predecessors comes at the same time as the rapid increase in the use of the smartphone and social media. Other studies support this as well.
The Monitoring the Future study states that just two hours a day engaged with social media contributes to social anxiety and unhappiness among today’s teenagers. If parents are looking for what is a reasonable amount of time to allow their child to use social media, it is most certainly less than 120 minutes per day. It would make sense to limit it to an hour a day. Doing that would force young people to communicate face-to-face with their friends and peers. When parents have taken these steps, it has resulted in happier kids and better students. In addition, it will help them develop stronger interpersonal and communication skills, which has suffered dramatically in this social media era we live in today. It will also give kids back control over their own life. Rather than being depending on that buzz or ping from the smartphone, they can focus on other things. They can be more in control of what they do rather than reacting to whatever happens on their smartphone, or what is snapped or posted on Instagram. They will be more focused on things that really do matter on their life, not distracted by their phone.
We need our kids to understand how this powerful device can serve them rather than enslave them. As a parents it is your moral and legal responsibility to provide a safe environment for your child. We all have taken numerous steps to provide a safe environment to protect them physically. It is imperative we do the same for their mental and emotional safety as well.