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Establishing screen time rules at home

Published in For the Health of It Author: Joseph Mahoney,MD

Today, over 75 percent of teenagers have smartphones. Since 2015, research has exploded on the negative effects of technology on our youth. Smartphones are replacing connections in our children’s daily lives with people and the world around them.

Studies have shown that kids who spend five hours online or more a day have a 71 percent higher suicide risk over kids who are online two hours or less a day. More screen time is directly related to an increase in depression. In addition, increased screen time has been linked to isolation, lack of sleep, less resilience, decrease in mindfulness and a rise in anxiety, depression and suicide in the past decade.

While teenagers continue to prefer their phones as a main source of entertainment, they are unknowingly at risk for becoming addicted to their devices. Sean Parker, the first President of Facebook, said there is science behind social media. Social media has developed systems to consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible. Parker further stated that each click on social media provides a dopamine pleasure hit to the user which in turn leads to a social validation feedback loop. Much like we see with a drug, tobacco or gambling addiction, the user continues to go back for that dopamine/feel good sensation. As time goes on, the user needs to engage more to feel that “high,” creating a false sense of connection which actually results in further isolation from the real world.

Additional concerns with excessive smartphone usage in teenagers includes their exposure to harmful or inappropriate content, a lack of stamina to work through problems and an inability to practice skills such as dealing with awkward situations or rolling with the punches because they choose avoidance through their phones as a coping mechanism.

The amount of time we spend online is overwhelming. Here are some statistics demonstrating what happens in an internet minute:

  • 900,000 logins on Facebook
  • 4.1 million videos viewed on YouTube
  • $751,522 spent online
  • 1.8 million Snaps created
  • 990,000 Tinder swipes
  • 3.5 million search queries on Google

Every waking second we are exposed to 11,000,000 bits of information when our brains are only capable of handling 40 bits. So, what can we do to help our children navigate our online-centric world and decrease the rise in anxiety and depression linked to electronic device usage? Here are some suggestions:

  • Model positive behavior by limiting or eliminating your smartphone use during family time. Parents on average participate in more screen time than children. Fathers only spend 30 minutes per week on average now with their teenage sons.
  • Keep electronics out of the bedroom. Electronics delay sleep onset and reduce sleep duration through stimulation and blue light from the LED display.
  • Establish dedicated no screen time hours in your home. Encourage finding entertainment that is geared toward creativity, empowerment and feeding your teens actual interests and hobbies.
  • Eliminate smartphone use in schools.
  • Increase face-to-face peer time. Children today spend 40 percent less time with their friends than they did in 2000.
  • Find opportunities for your teenager to participate in activities that support their hobbies and interests.

It is important that we look at smartphone usage as a serious health issue with our teens today. We need to talk to our children and provide opportunities for them to find real connections that bring them happiness and provide the tools they need to successfully navigate the world around them in a healthy and balanced way.