Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6
I have been writing this blog over the past three years. Many of those posts deal with the adverse effects of the digital world on our next generation. Less happiness, higher rates of anxiety, loneliness, sadness, hopelessness, depression and, sadly, suicide.
Most of the evidence has been anecdotal – reports by psychiatrists and the medical community of the uptick of these disorders. One of the most popular courses at Yale (Psych 157: Psychology and the Good Life) is a course on how to have more happiness. Twenty five percent of the student body have signed up for it.
The evidence has been anecdotal. Until now. The verdict is in.
JAMA Pediatrics Journal recently published a study of 3,826 adolescents in Canada. The study is titled “Association of Screen Time and Depression in Adolescence” and it was published in July, 2019.
It shows definitively that “each hour of screen time increases the severity of depression in teens.” Not just screen time, but involvement with social media and video games.
No, that’s not a misprint. Most parents who care about their children have tried to help them limit screen time, often by locking up their phones overnight. But screen time includes mobile phones, television and the internet.
Some of the consumed content plays a role, too. Girls who watch television depicting “idealized bodies” leads to greater dissatisfaction with their own body. “Comparing yourself to others on social media leads to lower self-esteem.”
This study on the impact on mental health of screen time is reminiscent of the finding that smoking cigarettes causes cancer fifty years ago. It is an “Aha” moment that should not be missed.
In essence, every hour of screen time increases the risk of adolescents being vulnerable to “anxiety, depressive episodes, loneliness, sadness or hopelessness.” What could be more damning?
This is a clarion call for parents and mentors to take action. I don’t think any parent would knowingly give their child something that would harm them. But the ubiquitous use of social media is just that, and not doing anything about it makes adults enablers.
Tim Elmore suggests (and I agree) that you print out a post on this topic and discuss it with your children. It’s no longer conjecture that excessive screen time = vulnerability to depression, loneliness, anxiety or worse.
Weaning an adolescent or millennial out of their digital world will not be easy. Tech companies have invested millions in getting a generation hooked on social media. That’s why tech executives in Silicon Valley send their children to schools devoid of computers, like the Waldorf School.
Another Bay Area school – Brightworks– is a low-tech school. Sixty-per cent of the student body have parents in the tech industry. It’s founder, Gene Tulley is quoted as saying: “We don’t have many rules (about tech in the classroom), but one of them is that if you want to play a video, you have to make it yourself.”
Hopefully, the tech industry will wisely start taking steps to help adolescents get normalized lives with limited screen time, but I doubt it. The tobacco industry could have taken that tack years ago, but instead, it chose to deny the link of smoking to cancer. They spent decades litigating the connection.
The challenge here is that tech industry is dedicated to getting you addicted to their product. As an adult, you can take steps to help your adolescent realize that it can be harmful to their mental health.
MENTOR TAKEAWAY: Mentors are in a position to guide their mentees in limiting their screen time. It is now a mental health issue.
FURTHER READING: JAMA Study on Screen Time/Mental Health
Psychology Today – Teenagers Facing Depression
Jean M. Twenge – The Atlantic on Have Smartphones Destroyed the Next Generation?
Silicon Valley Parents Choose Low and No-Tech Schools– The Good Men Project
WORSHIP: Listen to Good, Good Father
MentorLink:For more information about MentorLink, go to www.mentorlink.org.
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