It happens in the car, in class, at home, and even while walking. Teenagers are spending more and more time staring at various screens. This includes their smartphones, televisions, and computers. All of that staring at screens has parents and many professional organizations concerned about the effects of screen time on teen development.
Over the past few years there have been dire warnings regarding the negative effects that too much screen time can have on youth development. These have ranged from higher rates of obesity and depression to lower academic achievement. Many organizations have come out with a specific number of screen hours that are appropriate for youth.
This leaves parents in a difficult position. As technology has progressed, screens are popping up everywhere. Long gone are the days when parents could easily monitor the amount of screen time that their children were receiving. This means that even the most vigilant parent is going to find it hard to limit screen exposure.
This reality has led researchers to explore whether excessive screen time is actually as harmful as it has been made out to be. A recent study that was published in Psychiatric Quarterly found that there is more hype to these warnings than actual substance. The author found that there were no negative outcomes for teens who spent as much as six hours per day staring at screens.
Even those teens who far exceeded the six hours were only minimally impacted. This means that the amount of screentime a teen consumes does not predict their academic achievement, risky driving, substance use, obesity, or level of depression. This will come as a great relief for parents who have been given the responsibility to try and limit teens screen exposure.
The author points out that the issue is not simply the amount of screentime a teen is exposed to but rather how those screens are used. Screens can help deliver educational content that helps teens learn skills like conducting research or solving math problems. They can also provide ways for teenagers to stay in touch with their friends and develop supportive social networks.
While hard limits on screen time do not appear to be effective, there is still a good argument for using screens in moderation. Focusing too much time on any one activity will come at the expense of other activities. Adolescents are still developing and need to experience a range of options in order to develop to their fullest. This means spending less time staring at screens and more time doing activities like spending face to face time with friends and family, playing sports, or developing hobbies they can share with others.
The author concluded his paper by emphasizing that the most effective activity that limited teens' risky behaviors and negative outcomes was family involvement. Parents need to be actively involved in their teens' lives. While screen time might not matter as much as previously thought, parent time still does.