Addressing the Screen Time Challenge: How It Affects Teen Well-being and Growth

It’s estimated that 73% of 13-17-year-olds are addicted to the internet, and the vast majority of phone users check their phones once every 10 minutes. It’s once every 5 minutes for older teens, who can spend up to 8 hours per day on their screens. 

The screen time dilemma has been a major debate in recent years. UNICEF and the World Health Organisation credit excessive screen usage to reduced social skills, lower attention spans and a lack of empathy. As recently as last week, A Current Affair ran a story on the rate at which Attention Deficit Disorder is being diagnosed in women at a historic high. 

We wanted to use this opportunity to discuss the negative impacts of excessive screen time on adolescent well-being and development, as well as provide parents the knowledge to help teenagers develop healthy screen time habits and be more aware of the risks. 

Impaired Cognitive Development 

Mindless scrolling, binge-watching and excessive social media use can dramatically impact an adolescent’s cognitive development. Constant over-stimulation from screens may affect teenage brains by preventing them from properly developing critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.

If your teenager is too active on their screen during key stages of cognitive development, essential neural connections in the brain will be hampered. The brain will struggle to develop these connections, and teens may find that they start struggling with planning, organising and multitasking. This can have a major impact on their future successes, especially in school and relationships.  

Mental Health Challenges 

Social media isn’t great for teenagers, we all know this and yet it’s often hard to explain to them why. While we’ll store this specific topic for another blog, in the conversation of screen time, social media is just another hurdle that parents and teenagers need to learn to tread safely with. Whether it’s the fear of missing out (FOMO), cyberbullying and constant comparison to others, each can have a serious toll on a teens’ mental health. Prolonged scrolling on Instagram and TikTok has been linked to increased feelings of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem in teenagers, as well as for adults too. Very common issues that we often work with at Mindful Me include body image, self-esteem and confidence, and a lot of the time we can trace that back to the constant bombardment of edited images and curated content that filter through teenage minds every day.  

 Disrupted Sleep 

Screens are renowned for wreaking havoc on sleep. Blue light emits at just the right wavelength to block melatonin, which is a vital hormone for sleep. Excessive screens, or using devices just before bed, can make it difficult for teens to fall and stay asleep. Over time, this can lead to feelings of grumpiness and tiredness (we’ve all been there ourselves), and the overall quality of sleep decreases. Sleep is how our body recovers and processes information from throughout the day, it is detrimental to our mental and physical health. So much is the case, that researchers have been describing us as currently living through a sleep epidemic. 

Social Skills and Relationships 

When exposed to too many screens too young, adolescents tend to struggle with face-to-face interactions and may lack empathy for others. Post-pandemic studies have suggested that due to constant mask-wearing, children’s emotion recognition accuracy had severely dropped, meaning they found it more difficult to recognise sad and happy faces. While we no longer all walk around in masks, it’s of our opinion that social interaction is a skill that needs to be practiced face-to-face. The ability to express ourselves verbally and non-verbally, as well as the ability to read the expressions of others, becomes severely hampered when communication is funnelled through a device. This makes it increasingly difficult for teenagers to them form meaningful relationships with others. 

Additionally, being glued to a screen can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, as well as decreased opportunities for real-world interaction. Your teenager may feel increasingly irritable and have difficulty understanding and navigating social situations, which can ultimately impact their overall well-being. 

Physical Health 

Finally, teens using too many screens are also at risk of developing long-term health problems. Obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, poor posture, and eye strain have all been linked to excessive screen use.  

Some teenagers can spend hours hunched over in a less-than-ideal posture when at a computer, video console, or mobile phone. Chronic back and neck pain are common, creating a cycle where many teens then choose a more sedentary lifestyle, prefering screens over sport and other physical activities.  

Final Thoughts 

Excessive screen time has many detrimental effects, and it’s on us as parents and counsellors to help teens not just tackle but understand their use. 

If you believe your teen struggles regulating their use of screens and technology, give our friendly team at Mindful Me a call have a chat to one of our counsellors. Our counsellors are ready to work with both you and your teen to address any deeper motivations behind prolonged screen use/addiction and can help them adopt and understand healthy device use.