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Teenagers and screen time: what do we know about it?

Teenagers and screen time: What do we know about it?

4 min read
  • Phones & technology

In today’s world, almost everyone has a mobile phone, a laptop, and some type of gaming device. Adolescents can spend hours engrossed in YouTube videos or playing the latest video game. For a while now, parents and teachers have had growing concerns about the effects of screen time on the well-being of their children and students.

So, what can too much screen time do to adolescents? And what can you do to help?

What are the effects of screen time?

Screen time refers to time spent on cell phones, computers, electronic devices, electronic games, and TV. We have all been guilty of spending too much time in front of a screen, whether it’s falling into a never-ending YouTube video marathon, or browsing online shopping websites for hours on end.

Sometimes, screen time is inevitable (for example, if you work in an office or you are on a long train ride with only your phone to keep you company). However, continuous and consistent use of screens can have many negative effects, especially on young people.

A study of over 40,000 students between the ages of 2 to 17 years found that more hours of screen time were associated with lower well-being. High users of screen time (7+ hours a day) can often suffer from less curiosity, a lack of self-control, and emotional instability. Research shows that even moderate use of screens (4 hours a day) is associated with lower psychological well-being.

Another negative effect that screen time can have on children is on their diet. A study conducted in the UK, on over 100 individuals between the ages of 11-24, found that those who spent excess time playing games, texting or watching videos were less likely to eat nutritious foods. A poor diet can lead to many other health issues including obesity.

It may seem surprising how extreme the effects of too much screen time can be, especially considering how embedded screens are in our daily lives. However, completely banning TV, mobile phones, and electronics in the house or at school is almost impossible. So, what can you, as a teacher or parent, do to reduce the harmful effects of screen time?

Don’t let your students’ phone get in the way of their learning and well-being – help them develop key phone management skills.

What can you do to help?

If you’re a teacher

Many times, when students are sitting in class and feel bored, they will often take out their phones to browse social media or play a video game. This can also happen if students are left to work alone on a classroom computer. They may start off working on the task they’ve been given, but shortly after, they’ll find themselves searching for unrelated things. There are many ways that you can reduce screen time in your classrooms, however this is one of the easiest and most simple ones to implement while still being effective.  

  • Ask students to switch their phones off – Whilst in the classroom, ask students to switch their phones off. Students may seem frustrated by this at first, however if you explain the negative effects of screen time it will become easier for them to understand. Having no phone as a distraction will help them direct all of their focus on the task you are presenting, leading to better performance.

If you’re a parent or guardian

  • Ask them to put their phone on charge in a different room at night – 80% of adolescents report keeping their mobile phone on during the night. This can lead to them being woken up throughout the night by incoming calls and messages. Problems falling asleep, along with having to be up early for school on weekdays, can likely result in sleep deprivation. Asking your child to put their phone on charge in a different room, preferably one further away from their bedroom, can eliminate the chances of them being woken up and may also reduce how much time they spend on their phone.
  • No electronics at dinner – 64% of young people say that the TV is usually on during meals. When possible, sit together for family meals with no distractions. Children learn from the behaviours they see in their parents, and so, if you put your phone away, they are likely to do the same. Setting an hour aside everyday or a few times a week to spend time as a family can be very beneficial for both parents and children. Not having the TV on or phones out as a distraction while eating dinner will allow you to have some quality family time, whilst also reducing screen time. 

Final thoughts

There are many harmful effects that can arise from too much screen time, from becoming emotionally unstable to obesity. Adolescents often spend many hours of the day on their mobile phones or in front of a laptop screen. Although it may be difficult to make any drastic changes to their routine, slowly implementing some of the tactics mentioned above, both in the classroom and at home, can have very positive effects. Even an hour less a day by having a “no phones at the dinner table” rule is a good start to reducing screen time. Start small and your students or children will hopefully respond by beginning to make the changes themselves. 

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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