Part four in a series based on Teen Suicide: The "Why" Behind America's Suicide Epidemic
Mental health is every bit as important as physical health.
It’s not unusual to see little kids with smartphones or tablets. If you went to the grocery store right now, you might see a toddler sitting in a shopping cart, scrolling through an iPhone while a parent is busy shopping. It’s the new normal.
As technology has progressed, parents have let their kids have access to devices at younger and younger ages. By 2012, roughly 50 percent of our youth had access to a smartphone. By 2015, that number was close to 73 percent. In 2018, according to Pew Research Center, 95 percent of our youth in America have access to smartphones and the features that come with them – the Internet, social media platforms, YouTube, group texting and the like.
I realized that this ability to instantaneously access information was going to be an issue a few years ago when my daughter texted me a question. I realize that texting is a useful way to communicate, and there’s nothing wrong with that – but she was sitting a couple of feet away from me.
When I asked her why she just didn’t ask the question the old-fashioned way, she told me is was easier for her to text. Really?
The smartphone has become so ubiquitous that it is difficult to imagine what we ever did before its arrival. If used responsibly, it can make our lives easier in so many ways. But if we don’t monitor usage by our teens or teach them balance and boundaries, this device can adversely impact their lives and put them at risk.
Research shows that teens’ over-dependence on their smartphones and other devices affects their mental and physical well-being.
According to US News and World Report, too much online time has been linked to mental and physical problems such as anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, sleep deprivation and obesity. Findings published in the journal Emotion showed adolescent self-esteem, life satisfaction and happiness decreased the more hours teens spent per week on their devices.
More alarming still is what researchers from San Diego State University and Florida State University discovered: Roughly 50 percent of teens who spent five or more hours at a screen each day reported experiencing thoughts of suicide and experienced prolonged periods of hopelessness or sadness in comparison to those who did not spend as much time online.
Add to this the obesity risk because many kids are staying indoors without getting out for some exercise – and the sleep deprivation factor because they are falling short of the recommended eight to 10 hours for teens.
Many sleep experts recommend shutting off devices an hour or two before bed. When it comes to your teens – good luck with that.
HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?
Right now, the research is too unsubstantiated to give us a clear-cut answer about how much online time is too much – but one thing is certain: As parents, we need to use our best judgment. If you think your child is spending too much time online, you’re probably right. Establish boundaries and hold them accountable.
Try having your kids keep a daily and weekly log of their device use, including the apps used and the purpose for the online time. This will also serve as a lesson in time management – and they can see where to cut back.
Family time is important. Make it a rule that no devices should be used at mealtimes – and nobody should be looking at their phones when their undivided attention is required. That’s just rude.
Obviously – no devices while driving.
Set clear priorities and make sure your teen knows that it’s all about responsibilities and obligations before rights and privileges. Reward them for a job well done – and practice what you preach.
For some kids, the smartphone has become more important than real-life interaction with their peers. Smartphone interaction raises the dopamine levels of the user, resulting in a euphoric state. This “dopamine effect” says “I want more…I want more…I want more.”
Simply put, too much time online hurts your child’s mental health. An increase in real-life social interaction benefits their mental health. Real-world interaction helps your child to develop coping and problem-solving skills and the ability to communicate properly.
Interacting with others is important to your child’s self-esteem.
Proper smartphone use by teens and children is a parent’s responsibility. The devices belong to you. If your child can’t learn to use a device responsibility, then it’s time for you to step in.
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