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.