We hear a great deal about the potential impact of “too much” screen time on our teens’ mental and emotional health. An international study published in August of 2021, however, offers a more nuanced look at screen time and a possible “antidote.” Specifically, this study (summarized here) utilized data from over 577,000 adolescents between 11-years-old and 15-years-old from 42 countries. The teens completed surveys reporting how much of their free time they spent on screens—watching TV or YouTube, gaming, checking social media, chatting or emailing, and surfing the net. They also reported their patterns of physical exercise and several mental/emotional health factors. The study revealed several interesting results.
Lower amounts of screen time had no effect on the participants sense of well-being. Specifically, less than 60 minutes per day for females and less than 90 minutes per day for males seemed to have little effect on teen well-being.
If screen time went over 75 minutes per day for girls or 105 minutes per day for males, life-satisfaction began to drop. The more time spent on screens above these cut off points, the less happy the teens were with their lives. One of the researchers of this study even said, “If screen time goes beyond about two hours per day, there’s a detrimental relationship with mental health.”
The more regular exercise the teens experienced, the greater their life satisfaction and the fewer physical complaints for both males and females.
Perhaps most fascinating result to me: teens reported the positive effect of exercise regardless of how much time they spent on screens. This may mean that exercise helps “undo the damage to their well-being” that results from excessive screen time.
The greatest life satisfaction was reported by females who exercised every day and had less than an hour of screen time a day and males who exercised every day and had less than two hours of screen time a day.
This still leaves a lot of questions unanswered—like why the male/female difference or the different impacts of various types of social media. However, it also offers parents an excellent course of action. Rather than fight your teen to “get off the screen,” you might encourage them to get involved in some physical activity. Get them involved in a sport. Take up regular bike riding or jogging with them as a hobby. Go hiking on a regular basis. Find some physical activity your teen enjoys…and help them get involved. It may cut down on their screen time. And it may counteract some of the negative effects of excessive screen time on their mental and emotional health. So get out there and get active with your teen.
We all want our children to develop the ability to control their impulses, to practice “response inhibition” at the appropriate times. After all, good impulse control contributes to better academic success, goal achievement, occupational success, and social relationships. A study published in 2021 suggests an interesting way to help children gain impulse control that will last a lifetime-participation in physical exercise. There is an age caveat though.
Exercise in childhood (between 7- and 12-years of age) resulted in growth and connectivity in brain areas associated with response inhibition. Those changes produced greater response inhibition throughout the life span. However, exercise during adolescent years (12- to 18-years-old) did NOT impact the brain in ways that enhanced impulse control.
The bottom line? Get your 2- to 7-year-old active. Involve them in an activity like swimming, dance, gymnastics, martial arts, or some other sport like soccer, basketball, or baseball. Pick an activity they enjoy. You might even participate with them to reap the relationship benefits. They may not be a star and they may not stay involved forever. But even a single year of involvement will promote an active lifestyle and nurture brain development that will promote a lifetime of healthy impulse control.
You can encourage your children to learn their schoolwork (and anything else really) with these two surprising twists.
Give them a break. Neurobiologists have found that taking a break while learning and studying helps us retain the information for a longer period of time. Sure, cramming may get a person through the test (there is a time and place for that) but taking breaks while studying over time helps us retain the information longer. Why? Because reigniting the neural pathways that the novel information travels along after allowing them to lie dormant for a brief time seems to better “train” them for retention. This means encouraging your child to break up their study time with some breaks. What might they do during these breaks? See the next bullet for a wonderful research supported “break activity.”
Go for a swim or engage in some other familiar form of exercise.University of Delaware researchers taught 6- to 12-year-olds new words before engaging them in swimming, cross-fit training exercises, or completing coloring sheets. The children who swam were 13% more accurate in follow-up tests. And no wonder, “motor movement helps us encode (put into our memory) new words” by increasing Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a protein important for learning in the brain. The cross-fit training exercises did not help as much as swimming because the exercises were new to the children and so demanded more mental energy to complete properly. With that in mind, if you want your children to learn and remember what they are learning, let them engage in a familiar exercise, one that has become more automatic, after they study for a short time.
I’m going to suggest my daughters follow these two ideas in their own studies. They’re in college now, but I believe these two ideas will help them learn their material better too. What am I saying? I’m going to do this myself! I like to learn. And we can all learn more effectively when we take some breaks and do a little exercise. I think I’ll take a break now and go for a little walk. Enjoy.
Families and happiness seem to go hand in hand. At least it appears so in Facebook posts and television commercials. But we all know families experience hardships and struggles as well. In fact, our family members might struggle with depression and that depression may deepen in times of stress like we are experiencing today.
If you, or someone in your family, struggles with depression, you know how it impacts the whole family. If so, I have good news. Two studies, one from 2017 and one from 2020, suggest a fun and effective way to help reduce the symptoms of depression. Exercise…aerobic exercise to be more specific. In both studies, engaging in an 8-week moderate to intense aerobic exercise program reduced depressive symptoms. The most recent study (2020) found that those who had a more severe baseline of depressive symptoms were the most likely to respond positively to an aerobic exercise regime. So, if you or someone in your family struggles with depression, start exercising today. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Pick an aerobic exercise you will most likely enjoy. You could walk, jog, bike ride, swim, row, or many more. You can engage in these activities indoors in a gym, on a treadmill, an elliptical, or a stationary bike. Or you can enjoy these activities outdoors, allowing allow you to enjoy the benefits of nature as well.
Buddy up. If you struggle with depression, ask a family member or friend to join you. Join a class or group designed for that activity. If your family member struggles with depression, join them in their exercise routine. You can motivate one another while sharing company and time together. You will not only reap the benefits of exercise but the benefit of companionship and a growing relationship.
Make it a habit to encourage. Express gratitude for the time you share while exercising. Acknowledge improvements. Recognize the beauty around you, especially if you choose an outdoor aerobic exercise. As you do, you will also realize the positive impact of gratitude and awe on your mood and the mood of your exercise partner.
These studies measured improved results after only 8 weeks, but you might just find yourself enjoying this so much you make a lifetime habit out of it. I know I did. So, if you or a family member are feeling depressed start exercising today.