Screen Time and its Link to Depression in Teens


SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — It’s a familiar scene: teenagers with their noses buried in their cellphones in restaurants, in the car, with their friends. An author and researcher in California says the scenes aren’t as innocuous as they appear.

This sight isn’t rare: young people texting, checking social media sites or playing games. The author of iGen, a book examining social effects on kids, says that leads to feelings of missing out or not measuring up to friends and sometimes cyberbullying.

“At the same time, that loneliness spiked and depression went up and unhappiness went up,” author Jean Twenge told Ivanhoe.

Twenge analyzed four national surveys of how teens spend their time, how they feel and why. She found that in the last seven years, teen depression has risen from eight to 13 percent. Their suicide rate, though still low, has doubled. Cases of self-harm are also up. She said teens who spend more than five hours a day online are twice as likely to say they’re unhappy as kids who are online one hour a day.

“It’s going to crowd out time for actively seeing your friends in person,” explained Twenge.

UCSD child psychologist Kara Bagot studies substance use in kids. She said more research is needed but does see similarities with social media use.

“They’re sort of compulsively using in a way that we see adolescents and adults sort of compulsively use alcohol and other drugs,” detailed Bagot.

She said parents and pediatricians need to talk to kids about social media potential harm earlier. Jean Twenge agrees.

Twenge said, “Many of the causes of depression and unhappiness are completely out of our control. But how we spend our leisure time is something that we can control and we can help our kids do the same.”

Twenge has some suggestions for parents on how to help: don’t let kids have phones in the bedroom or use phones within an hour of bedtime. That will help with sleep. Make sure your kids are old and mature enough to process the cyberworld. Also limit how much access they have to social media.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Wendy Chioji, Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, News Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; Rusty Reed, Photographer.

Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.