In today’s digital age, adolescents are exposed to various screens in many shapes and sizes, such as televisions, computers, tablets, and smartphones, and the prevalence of such devices has increased significantly over the years. As a result, parents and caregivers are increasingly concerned about how much time their children spend in front of screens, however, there could be scientific reasoning to their kids struggling to put the device down.
First and foremost, teenagers have the biological disadvantage of an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex, which is the part of our brain responsible for reasoning, planning, judgment, and impulse control. Starting in early adolescence and peaking around midway through, teens experience an increase in the activity of the neural circuits that deal with dopamine. This is why teens gravitate toward experiences that yield “rewards”, such as likes on a social media post and message notifications.
Additionally, screens can be highly engaging. Teens may find it challenging to resist the temptation to spend more time on them, especially if they are playing rewarding games or watching entertaining videos. This, coupled with a lack of structure or routine for screen time can lead to a struggle regulating their use of screens.
Teens may also feel pressure from their peers to use social media and play online games, making it difficult for them to manage their screen time. They may turn to screens because they lack alternative activities or hobbies that they find engaging and enjoyable.
Since screens have become increasingly accessible, and teens may have access to multiple devices at home, it becomes more and more challenging to monitor and manage their screen time habits.
While most parents only focus on the drawbacks of screen time, there are still benefits to having access to devices. Screens can offer educational opportunities for adolescents, including access to educational games, videos, and apps that can enhance their learning and cognitive development.
As we’ve recently learned through the pandemic, screens can help people stay connected with family and friends, which proved to be the lifeline many people desperately needed. Along with the entertainment that devices provided during a time of physical isolation, screens helped us feel connected to our loved ones when we couldn’t be with them.
With the positives, there are negatives that accompany them. Excessive screen time can lead to a sedentary lifestyle, which can increase the risk of obesity, sleep disruptions, behavioural issues, neck and eye strain, and a host of other related health and mental health problems.
Some teens may even develop an addiction to screens, leading to excessive screen time habits and withdrawal symptoms when they are unable to access screens. This can lead to social isolation and reduced face-to-face communication skills, which can impact teen’s social and emotional development.
While screens can offer educational and entertainment opportunities for youngsters, excessive screen time has been linked to several negative impacts on adolescent’s physical and mental health. Parents and caregivers play a critical role in managing teen’s screen time by setting clear rules and boundaries, providing alternative activities, and modelling healthy screen time habits. It’s essential to strike a balance between the benefits and drawbacks of screen time and ensure that their teens spend adequate time engaged in physical activity, social interaction, and other non-screen-based activities. By doing so, we can help our children enjoy the benefits of screen time while mitigating the potential risks and promoting their overall wellbeing.