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Study Proves ‘Screen Addicted’ Kids Are Miserable

A study by the University of San Diego has proven what we’ve secretly known all along… Screen time isn’t the key to happiness (despite what your children might think!)

screen time teens

Researchers have found that teens who spend a lot of time in front of screen devices – playing games, using social media, texting, watching videos and chatting – are less happy than those who participate in non-screen activities.

‘Teens whose eyes are habitually glued to their smartphones are markedly unhappier,’ confirmed study lead author and San Diego State University and professor of psychology Jean M. Twenge.

The happiest teens use digital media and screen-face for less than one hour a day – and the data proves unhappiness rises steadily with increasing screen time.

If your teen wants to argue the facts with you, they’ve not got much chance. The study was based on 1 million teenagers in years eight, ten and twelve at school. The research asked them how long they spent time on their phones, tablets and computers, as well as questions about their in-the-flesh social interactions and overall happiness.

What’s most interesting is the Professors interpretation of the data, Twenge believes that screen time is driving unhappiness rather than the other way around.

The key, he says, to digital media use and happiness is limited engagement. “Aim to spend no more than two hours a day on digital media, and try to increase the amount of time you spend seeing friends face-to-face and exercising — two activities reliably linked to greater happiness.”

Looking at historical trends from the same age groups since the 1990s, the researchers highlight that proliferation of screen devices over time coincided with a general drop-off in reported happiness in U.S. teens. Specifically, young people’s life satisfaction, self-esteem and happiness plummeted after 2012. That’s the year that the percentage of Americans who owned a smartphone rose above 50 percent. Yikes!

By far the largest change in teens’ lives between 2012 and 2016 was the increase in the amount of time they spent on digital media, and the subsequent decline in in-person social activities and sleep,” she said. “The advent of the smartphone is the most plausible explanation for the sudden decrease in teens’ psychological well-being.”

So, if you’ve got a moody, device-loving teen on your hands and you’re really up for a fight, cut short their screen time. You’d be brave, but you might actually enjoy a few less slammed doors – and maybe even a smile!   Maybe attempt a technology blackout.  Good luck! 

Jean M. Twenge, Gabrielle N. Martin, W. Keith Campbell. Decreases in Psychological Well-Being Among American Adolescents After 2012 and Links to Screen Time During the Rise of Smartphone Technology.Emotion, 2018; DOI: 10.1037/emo0000403

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