I've lost my teenager to a smartphone!

By Jami Haberl on Monday, March 26, 2018

Too much screen time among U.S. teens can lead to depression, obesity and insomnia   

In 2017, a study published in the Clinical Psychological Science journal and reported by The Washington Post outlined some serious health issues among teenagers across the country. Nearly a half a million U.S. teens (ages 13 to 18) completed questionnaires about how much they use their devices (smartphone, tablet, computer), sleep habits and also their general attitudes and feelings. The analysis revealed a sharp jump in depression and suicidal thoughts when screen time increased. And nearly half of U.S. teens are seriously sleep-deprived. 

Two hours or less of screen use per day didn’t seem to affect attitudes or feelings, but as you get up to three, four or five hours online the study found teenagers were much more likely to think about suicide or display major depression. In fact, teens who spent five or more hours per day online were 71 percent more likely to have at least one suicide risk factor vs those teens who only spent one hour online. The percentages among girls are even higher than boys.

Sleep deprivation is also another issue that can be causing serious health problems among teens and is likely caused by the smartphone habit. The goal is to get a least nine hours of sleep per night, but 43 percent of teens reported sleeping less than seven hours on most nights. Spending three hours a day vs. one hour online upped the risk of sleep deprivation by nearly 20 percent! Lack of sleep can lead to poor performance at school and even weight gain.

So, if your teenager has a strong case of FOMO and is turning into a zombie from lack of sleep, below are a few tips to get them to put down the screens:

  1. Lack of Impulse Control - teens are still children and their brain functions are not fully matured, so the instant gratification of a Like or Comment is too addictive to make them turn-off the phones and get to bed. So, layout the ground rules and stick to them.
  2. Set Limits & Hours of Use – Outline the hours at night they can use their phones/tablets or computer and when they need to be shut-off. Take the phone away at night and give it back after breakfast in the morning (who knows, they may even tell you “Good morning!”). They may balk at the hour restrictions, but secretly are often relieved because they don’t have to be available online for their friends 24/7.
  3. Unplug & Go for a Walk – Encourage your teen to take an hour and workout. Go for a walk or jog, head to a yoga class or help out in the yard to free them from the screen, get their blood pumping and the feel-good endorphins flowing.
  4. Screen-Free Sundays – now this challenge is one for the entire family! Choose 1-2 Sundays in the month and mark them down as “screen-free”, giving everyone in the house ample warning and prep time. Put the devices in a basket, turn-off the Internet and unplug! Exercise, read a book, color a few pages in one of those complex coloring books, or try talking to each other face-to-face. The first few hours will be painful, but everyone can appreciate a day without tings, dings or ridiculous cat videos.

To learn more about the Iowa 5-2-1-0 Healthy Choices Count program click here