Talk to any parent of a teen these days and the topic is sure to come up: Is it bad that they’re spending so much time on their phones? This question has been at the forefront of public interest lately, with former tech executives speaking out against the platforms they helped create and organizations such as the Center for Humane Technology sounding the alarm about too much screen time.
The way teens spend their leisure time has shifted radically since the first iPhone was introduced in 2007 and smartphones were owned by the majority of Americans in 2012. In my recent book, “iGen,” I found that the average 12th grader now spends six hours a day texting, online and on social media. Common Sense Media recently found that teens spend nine hours a day of their leisure time with screens. This is an enormous amount of time, so much that many teens are clearly overusing, and not just using, digital media.
The enormity of the time taken up by digital media has also left less time for teens to interact with their friends in person and to get adequate sleep.
These trends have had serious consequences for teens’ mental health. In the period between 2012 and 2016, more and more teens began to say they felt useless and joyless — classic symptoms of depression. More started to say they felt anxious and overwhelmed. Clinical-level depression among teens increased by 50 percent, and the number of 10- to 14-year-old girls admitted to emergency rooms for self-harm (such as cutting) tripled. Most concerning of all, the suicide rate for teen girls doubled.