Screens, Teens and Depression
Simple steps to help your child avoid depression
But before you get worried about your child’s screen habits here are a few things to remember:
So what’s going on?
Fear Of Missing Out (aka FOMO) - Social media can increase our teen’s sense that they are not included. They actually engage in less face to face time together but they post about it more, creating the sense for anyone not included that they have been left out.
Sleep deprivation - Screen time before bed has been shown to lead to lower quality of sleep and increased difficulty getting to sleep (2). “Fifty-seven percent more teens were sleep deprived in 2015 than in 1991. In just the four years from 2012 to 2015, 22 percent more teens failed to get seven hours of sleep.” Sleep disruption can exacerbate anxiety and depression. It can also affect concentration, memory and other executive functions like decision-making (1).
Avoidance – every generation finds a way to numb difficult emotions. Instead of alcohol, food, shopping and sex, this generation is more likely to choose screens and social media. Screen time is not bad in and of itself as long as it’s done in moderation. Moderation has become more challenging since apps are now designed to appeal to the brain’s addictive tendencies.
What can parents do?
Start with small changes – phone and screen time can be a precious commodity. Challenging your child’s phone time can create big blow-ups. Start with one small change and wait 1-2 weeks before introducing another change. Think of weaning off of coffee rather than going cold turkey.
Use alarm clocks, not phones – research has shown that sleeping with a phone nearby increases one’s sense of anxiety since the brain is always aware that a text could come in (3).
Have all family members park the phones in the kitchen or living room for charging overnight.
Take 1-2 hours off the screen before bed – sleep quality has been shown to increase when screens are off at least 1 hour before bedtime. The brain activity and the stimulation of the light impacts the body’s ability to relax and fall asleep.2
Have screen-free meals – teach your kids how to have conversation by practicing at meal time.
Limit your child’s screen time to 2 hours or less per day (less than 1 hour if your child is under age 5)
Screen detox during family vacations
Have family screen time (1 hour), followed by family play-time. We lovingly call this “forced family fun” in our home.
Find out what your kids enjoy and do it with them to help them move past the decrease in screen time.
Model, model, model – if you want your child to be able to do something difficult, you need to be able to do it yourself. Your kids learn everything they know about life from watching you.
Talk about any difficulties you notice personally from limiting screen time. Your child will learn how to manage difficult emotions by watching you deal with yours.
Help your child develop hobbies and other interests
Challenge them to do uncomfortable things, like conversation, driving, buying groceries. They need these experiences to learn that they can handle them.
Remember the screen time is not the problem, it’s an excess of screen time that can cause issues. Some waves of tension over putting down the phone is well worth a lifetime of increased sense of wellbeing for your child. Some of these suggestions may take some patience from you. Some kids might not be used to the patience and perseverance that non-screen activities take. But these skills are essential building blocks for developing a sense of happiness. So when your child whines for the 80th time about being bored, remind yourself that you’re helping him or her develop some important internal muscle. In the long run they will be much, much happier.
Highlighted article: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/
1. The Healing Power of Sleep 2nd Edition by Mary O’Brien, M.D. (2011).
Photo by Steinar Engeland on Unsplash
For Further Reading:
12 ways your phone is changing you by Reinke, T. (2017).
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Hello and welcome! I'm Karin, I'm a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor with a private practice in New Brighton, MN serving the Twin Cities metro area, St. Paul and Minneapolis. I specialize in helping struggling kids and overwhelmed adults find relief and live a vibrant life.