Should parents limit screen time for teens? | The Tylt

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Should parents limit screen time for teens?

According to the Pew Research Center, 83 percent of teens using social media say that they feel more connected to "information about their friends’ lives." Yet, usage of smartphones and apps could also be responsible for increased feelings of loneliness and depression among teens. 

Jean Twenge is a psychology professor at San Diego State University. She has carefully studied four large, national surveys of young people since the 1960s, and she discovered a change in behavior and mental health in teens born in 1995 and later. Twenge tells 60 Minutes's Anderson Cooper that: 

It's not just the loneliness and depression from these surveys. It's also that ER visits for self harm like cutting have tripled among girls age 10 to 14.

When asked what teens could be doing on their phones that is causing increased rates of depression, Twenge responds: 

It could be anything. There's kind of two different schools of thought on this. That it's the specific things that teens are doing on their phones that's the problem. Or it could be just the sheer amount of time that they're spending on their phones that is the problem.

When self-harm is the consequence, the answer becomes clear. There is no time to wait for definitive research on how much screen time might be healthy for young adults; parents and lawmakers should act now to restrict phone and screen use before it's too late. 


So far, much of what we know about screen time and its effects is correlation-based. Since smartphones are not going away, uncovering the nuance behind screens is paramount. Without careful understanding, the consequences could be dire, which is why it is important to not jump to conclusions. 

As the New York Times's Benedict Carey points out: 

Does screen addiction change the brain? Yes, but so does every other activity that children engage in: sleep, homework, playing soccer, arguing, growing up in poverty, reading, vaping behind the school. The adolescent brain continually changes, or 'rewires' itself, in response to daily experience, and that adaptation continues into the early to mid 20s.

Just because something changes the brain does not make it bad or even unavoidable. Carey continues:

What scientists want to learn is whether screen time, at some threshold, causes any measurable differences in adolescent brain structure or function, and whether those differences are meaningful. Do they cause attention deficits, mood problems, or delays in reading or problem-solving ability?

If the people who created smartphones and apps are afraid to share them with their own teens and kids, shouldn't that be proof enough? The New York Times's Nellie Bowles opens an exposé of Silicon Valley's own feelings on screen time with an ominous warning: 

The people who are closest to a thing are often the most wary of it.

Bowles looks to Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and the current chief executive of a robotics and drone company, for insight on screens and their impact. Anderson takes no prisoners when it comes to screen time for his kids:

[Anderson] has five children and 12 tech rules. They include: no phones until the summer before high school, no screens in bedrooms, network-level content blocking, no social media until age 13, no iPads at all and screen time schedules enforced by Google Wifi that he controls from his phone. Bad behavior? The child goes offline for 24 hours.

Apparently, this practice is not a rare one:

Tim Cook, the C.E.O. of Apple, said earlier this year that he would not let his nephew join social networks. Bill Gates banned cellphones until his children were teenagers, and Melinda Gates wrote that she wished they had waited even longer. Steve Jobs would not let his young children near iPads.

"Wary" might be too weak a word to describe this kind of behavior; the biggest names in Silicon Valley are treating screens with the same precaution as one would a live grenade. And as Melinda Gates makes clear, there's no reason these rules and restrictions should stop once kids hit puberty.


While the world continues to study this topic well into the future, there are undeniable benefits that technology brings to teens. The Washington Post's Katherine Reynolds Lewis looks to NPR's lead digital education reporter and author of "The Art of Screen Time," Anya Kamenetz, for further insight. According to Kamenetz:

We all use digital media. It helps us learn about the world, it helps us connect with others and it helps us be creative when we’re making media or engaging in sharing what we’ve created. To the extent we’re sharing those functions with our kids — learning, discovering, sharing and creating — that’s good. It involves a lot more active involvement than we’re used to thinking about with screens.

Restricting screen time for teens is not only unrealistic, but it might do more harm than good.

Should parents limit screen time for teens?
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