The Right Amount of Screen Time
With headlines questioning “Have Smartphone’s Destroyed a Generation?” and “Is Social Media Causing Childhood Depression?”, the controversy around the impact of screens on today’s youth continues to swirl. Whether it’s the busyness of our 24/7 connected world, feelings of loneliness, excessive time spent on screens, or some other factor, we must be attuned to our children’s health and well-being.
While the data remains unclear, there is increased concern about technology’s role. Furthering the confusion is data showing that teens who spend zero time on screens are less happy than those that spend a moderate amount. Parents ultimately have to make the call what’s the right amount of screen time for their child, but our research has uncovered some helpful guidelines.
The ‘Just Right Amount’
When it comes to screen time, parents may be relieved to know that researchers are converging around the opinion that screen time in moderation actually produces an uptick in happiness. Jean Twenge, a well-known psychologist and author who studies generational trends, concluded in a recent study:
“Teenagers who get a small amount of screen time, between one and five hours a week, are happier than those who get none at all. The least happy ones were those who used screens for 20 or more hours a week. The happiest teens are those who are above average in face-to-face social interaction time and below average in social media use.”
The Goldilocks Hypothesis
These findings are consistent with the Goldilock Hypothesis that there is a ‘just right’ amount of screen time. A recent study conducted for UNICEF found, “in terms of impact on children’s mental well-being, the most robust studies suggest that the relationship [with technology] is U-shaped, where no use and excessive use can have a small negative impact on mental well-being, while moderate use can have a small positive impact.
Finding The Sweet Spot for Screen Time is Contextual
Teens reach their sweet spot sooner on weekdays than weekends, likely because they have fewer demands on their time. This finding likely holds true for younger children as well.
How much screen time is the right amount for your child is difficult to pinpoint, but should be considered in the context of:
- It’s zero sum — one more hour of screen time takes away one hour for something else.
- How your child responds when the technology is turned off
- How much time your child already spends on screens at school and for homework
Because screen time potentially encroaches on time for socializing, sleep, reading, physical activity, time outdoors — the very activities we know contribute to health and well-being, parents are wise to set limits. Ultimately, we want teens to be prepared for the realities of life in the digital world by the time they head to college, but self-regulation is a learned skill.
TIME WISE CALCULATOR
- Under 18 months: limit to video chatting only
- 2 – 5 years: 1- hour of high-quality programming
- Place consistent limits on the time spent using media and the types of media
- Be sure to allow time for other behaviors that promote health, such as sleep, physical activity, unstructured play time and face-to-face interaction
- 9 to 12 hours of sleep for children ages 6-12, and 8 to 10 hours for teenagers
- At least 1 hour of physical activity for 5-17 year-olds
- Have Smartphone Destroyed a Generation?
- Is Social Media Causing Childhood Depression?
- Suicide rates have increased by 25%
- The Just Right Amount of Time
- Unicef Study
- AAP Recommendations
- Researchers find the most plausible cause of well being
- Limiting childrens recreational screen time to less than two hours a day linked to better cognition
- Associations between 24 hour movement behaviors and global cognition in US chidren
- How teens and parents navigate screen time and device distractions
- Teens who spend less time in front of screens are happier up to a point
- Rise in teen suicide connected to social media popularity study
- Increased hours online correlate with an uptick in teen depression suicidal thoughts
- A large scale test of the Goldilocks Hypothesis