Today’s teenagers average over 6.5 hours per day of screen time. Being connected is literally a full-time job for them, possibly explaining why the number of teens holding a part-time job has dropped dramatically. They have more leisure time and 24/7 social access. But is it making them happy?
- Average over 6.5 hours of screen time
- Seek validation of their worth in Likes and Shares
- Spend less time in person with friends
Overall, the answer is a resounding No. Studies are very clear that the more time kids spend on their smartphones, the higher their level of unhappiness. More screen time, less happiness. More time spent on offline activities, more happiness. That’s true even if what they’re doing offline is homework.
Social media can be a positive influence, helping kids to connect with others. Many teens use platforms like Facebook and Instagram to document their lives. Like scrapbooking in real-time with an audience. But what happens when that audience is critical instead of supportive? Or just unresponsive? Experts frequently warn about the dangers of bullying. But isolation can be just as emotionally damaging. Too many teens view their own worth through the lens of their Likes and Shares. When that validation isn’t there, they can misinterpret a lack of response to their posts as a statement on their individual worth.
An even bigger issue for happiness is what kids aren’t doing because they’re spending all their time online. They’re not spending time in person with friends. Since 2000, the number of teenagers who spend time in person with friends every day has dropped over 40%. Our teens are becoming isolated. Social media can be fun, but it doesn’t replace going to the mall, taking a hike, hanging out at the local coffee shop, or any of the many ways that teens used to connect in person before they were glued to their smartphones.
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO?
Limit screen time. No one needs to spend more time online than in school.
Invite friends over. Take your kids to a movie, museum, or coffee shop with friends. And remember not to overthink it. Teen hangouts don’t need to be expensive or planned far in advance. Last minute sleepovers or movie nights with microwave popcorn and streaming films work too.
Resistant teen? Consider hosting a game night at your home. Game night at your house provides a safe space for teens to interact in person.