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Recommended Screen Time for Teens

Arrière-plan

June 15, 2020 Mental Health

Parents

Par Sylvie Labrecque

Social Worker

In recent years, children, teens, and adults have been spending more and more time on screens. When we talk about screens, we are referring to all electronic devices that allow access to online or offline content. Specifically, this includes smartphones, tablets, televisions, video game consoles, and computers.

Managing their teen's screen time can be a real headache for parents: a son who spends too much time playing video games or a daughter who is too present on social media networks, for example. Setting limits can lead to major conflicts, while taking a hands-off approach can cause parents to feel guilty and worried.

So, what’s the solution?  How can we determine how much time our teens should spend on screens? When should we worry?  Finally, is screen time really that damaging after all?

Screen-related benefits and risks

To begin, let's keep in mind that technology is now part of our environment. Screens are here to stay, and it is impossible to fully avoid them. Their utility is no longer in question: we use them for work, studies, leisure, and to communicate with family and friends. Moreover, technology provides an important place of socialization for teenagers that they should not be prevented from accessing.

However, it is important to ensure that the negative effects do not outweigh the benefits.


Recent studies indicate that overuse and misuse of screens can have a harmful impact on a young person’s physical and mental health.

Physical health consequences

Sedentary lifestyle

A young person should do at least sixty minutes of physical activity per day. A teenager who spends a lot of time in front of a screen is likely to be less active, which can lead to consequences such as obesity, muscle tone deficiencies, and cardiovascular disease.

Sleep

Our sleep quality is diminished when we spend a lot of time in front of screens. This can affect a young person’s learning abilities and can lead to irritability.

Poor diet

It has been shown that young people who spend a lot of time in front of screens are more likely to consume junk food and less fruit and vegetables.

Vision

Too much screen time can cause headaches and vision problems.

Mental health consequences

Teenagers who spend a lot of time in front of screens may experience anxiety or depressive feelings. Young people are at a particularly high risk of developing a negative body image because of unrealistic images of beauty (retouched photos, extreme thinness, highly developed muscles) viewed online. They can also develop hyperactivity or behavioral problems.

Finally, screen time can often overtake family time and damage the parent-teen relationship. Ultimately, “virtual” meetings should not replace real interactions between a young person and their family and friends. It is through genuine, in-person relationships that teens develop and build their identity.

Other possible risks include

  • Cyberbullying

  • Exposure to inappropriate sexual content or pornography

  • Online sexual exploitation

  • Having intimate photos posted without consent: 18% of Laval youth experienced this unfortunate phenomenon in 2018, according to a study by the Marie-Vincent Foundation

Is my teen spending too much time on screens?

Excessive screen use occurs when your teen loses interest in activities they used to enjoy (sports, music, reading, etc.), especially when they spend all their free time in front of a screen. A young person may become isolated and no longer want to socialize with family or friends. They may become angry when denied access to video games, computers, etc., neglect their studies, or appear depressed (reduced appetite, poor sleep, irritability).

What can I do as a parent?

Make a schedule: Asking your teen to limit screen time can feel like a declaration of war!  To give yourself the best chance of success, make a daily schedule together with your teen that covers their core lifestyle elements (sleeping, mealtimes, exercise, seeing friends, etc.). The overall goal is to find a balance between screen time and other activities.

Take an interest in what your teen is doing online. Discuss it with them and get them to think critically about what they are looking at.  Spending an excessive amount of time on screens may indicate that your teen simply does not know what else to do. Suggest alternatives or plan screen-free family activities. 

Set an example! How are you using screens? Are you spending a lot of time on them? Modeling a balanced lifestyle is also important.

Keep in mind that problematic screen use may be a sign of an underlying problem (depression, low self-esteem, anxiety). Consult with a healthcare professional as needed.

What about lockdown?

The COVID-19 lockdown in recent weeks has increased screen time for all families. Despite these challenges, it is important to try to maintain a balanced routine for you and your teens as much as possible every day. It will make it easier for your teen to return to normal routines post-lockdown.  


References (in French)

L’utilisation des écrans en contexte de pandémie de COVID-19- quelques pistes d’encadrement, Institut national de santé publique du Québec, 27 mai 2020.
Les médias numériques: la promotion d’une saine utilisation des écrans chez les enfants d’âge scolaire et les adolescents, Document de principes, Groupe de travail sur la santé numérique, Société canadienne de pédiatrie, 2019
Le temps d’écran, une autre habitude de vie associée à la santé, INSPQ Collection TOPO, no 12, septembre 2016
TELUS averti, Temps d'écran et bien-être