As schools, parents and adolescents work to find a synthesis between harnessing the advantages that digital technology has brought to our ability to learn, connect and communicate and the potential harm that comes from overuse, a vast amount of research has tried to help guide a balanced recommendation for the medical and academic communities. The advent of streaming media and the ability to bring dynamic, cutting edge academic material to our schools has created school curricula that far supersedes what textbooks could deliver to students and a school’s ability to connect with their student’s outside of the walls of a traditional school has allowed expanded learning opportunities. Families have a greater ability to touch base with one another and adolescents have the ability to connect and communicate with greater frequency than ever. Some research has concluded that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended amount of screen time for adolescents is antiquated and that there are few negative consequences associated with up to 6 hours of screen time each day.
Proponents of limiting screen time argue that we have adequate data that points to risk factors for emotional and physical health when screen time becomes excessive. Recent research documents a significant negative change in levels of happiness when adolescents engage in frequent (measured at four hours per day) use of social media or gaming. Specific studies around social media and adolescents have demonstrated significant neurological changes and a ‘rewiring’ of the reward system in fMRI studies completed at UCLA. Some worry that increased screen time leads to a more sedentary lifestyle, placing children and adolescents at an increased risk for type-2 diabetes and poor bone health and density. Others have documented a higher risk for increased BMI (Body Mass Index) with greater screen time.
The one component that each of the research studies demonstrate, though, is balance. The importance of technology is evolving and the benefits for academic, communication and lifestyle advantages are clear. There are some additional risk factors, particularly for children and adolescents, because of the pervasiveness of screen time and our increased ability through social media and smartphones to become dependent on devices to the exclusion of interpersonal relationships, down time and, particularly for adolescents, genuine, authentic interactions between friends and families. Please click here for the Huffington Post’s infographic on adolescents and screen time risk factors or click the box below.