In the upcoming March edition of Crosslight, Julie Perrin addresses the dilemma many parents and grandparents face. How do you monitor what young people are exposed to online and limit the amount of screen time?
There is growing debate about the impact smartphones and other devices are having on the behaviour and mental health of children and teenagers.
Studies have concluded that worrying downward trends in youth mental and physical wellbeing appear to be closely related to the popularity of smartphones.
US Professor of Psychology Jean Twenge writes in The Conversationthat her research has found that the introduction of smartphones appears to have triggered a rise in depressive, even suicidal, thoughts in teens.
One key reason identified is that screen time, even if it includes social media and messaging interaction, is no substitute for physically spending time with friends.
“Interacting with people face-to-face is one of the deepest wellsprings of human happiness; without it, our moods start to suffer and depression often follows,” Prof Twenge writes.
“Feeling socially isolated is also one of the major risk factors for suicide. We found that teens who spent more time than average online and less time than average with friends in person were the most likely to be depressed.”
Concerns about online interaction range from cyberbullying and sexting to the pressure young people feel to present perfect images of themselves for social media consumption.
Ms Perrin writes that the film Screenagers is a useful way to educate yourself and other young people on the potential effects that extensive digital device use is having on teenagers.
The film points out that computer games are designed to be addictive and that that US teenage boys spend on average 11.5 hours gaming per week.
Ms Perrin, citing advice from the free online book Parents Guide to Gaming, writes that grandparents and parents need to show that there is life beyond the screen.
“Because the children are excited and stimulated in the games, there is often a sense of letdown at having to leave it,” she writes.
“It is vital that there is a repertoire of things to do in the real world that offer play and pleasure and interest. Grandparents are in a key position to offer hands-on alternative activities.”
Are the concerns over too much screen time for young people justified and what can be done if they are?