Most parents are aware that they should be limiting the amount of time that their children are spending in front of screens. However, a recent study conducted by JAMA Pediatrics in Canada revealed some disturbing correlations between screen time and depression. The study took place over four years beginning in 2012 and included 3826 adolescents, aged between seventh and eleventh grades. The kids were asked to fill out a survey assessing their screen time behavior as well as questions about their symptoms of depression. Screen time was measured by how much time they spent playing video games, using social media, watching television and using a computer. The teens were also asked to measure the seven known depression symptoms, such as loneliness, sadness and hopelessness on a scale from zero (not at all) to four (very much).
The results showed that high levels of social media use coincided with high levels of depression. Plus, if a child indicated an increase in social media over the four years, then it was associated with an increase in depressive symptoms. It is possible that after repeated exposure to idealized images in social media, then the adolescent’s self-esteem is lowered, and therefore triggers depression. During adolescence, our brains are still developing along with our sense of one’s self. Therefore, experiencing depression during this time can have potentially serious effects to a person’s mental health in adulthood.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents establish limits on screen time and that it shouldn’t interfere with exercise or sleep. Screens should be avoided one hour prior to going to bed. One way to reduce screen time is to set up a charging station in a central location, away from the bedrooms to avoid sleep distractions. While social media has it’s positive features, there is a balance in its use, and should not replace social support or connections.