What is your teen’s smartphone doing to their mental health?

Smartphones weren’t a thing when I was a teenager. They didn’t exist yet. But, through the teen years I still dealt with the typical stuff—figuring out who I was compared to my friends, adjusting to hormones and body changes, and the dramas of my friends/boyfriends. 

teens smartphone

When I wanted to call my friends, I would use the house phone (where everyone could hear what I was saying). Social media wasn’t even created. When we left school, we actually left. The day’s drama, while still on our minds for a short while, was left at our lockers. 

Nowadays almost every teen you see has a smartphone of some kind. They are “constant companions.” Too often it seems like many teens don’t even know how to have a face-to-face conversation, or for that matter, a verbal phone conversation. It is quite common to see teens walking around together with each on a phone, not even making eye contact with each other and even messaging the people right next to them. They are so used to the world inside their phone, the one controlled by texts and social platforms, the one that never sleeps. 

More Depression, More Anxiety

It is no surprise these phone behaviors are doing some damage to our kids’ mental wellbeing. Bullying is more accessible than ever, teens get fewer hours of quality sleep, and kids are exposed to distorted versions of reality through social media. Research shows, between 2009 and 2017, the number of high schoolers who contemplated suicide increased by 25 percent.  The number of teens diagnosed with depression increased by 37 percent between 2005 and 2014.

teen depression

Our teens are constantly in contact with classmates and are constantly exposed to highly emotional situations. Where they used to be able to escape to the safety of their homes, that no longer exists. Technology has enabled them to always be followed and always connected, with limited ability to unplug. 

How Can We Help

Even though as parents we don’t quite understand this addiction to the phone, (after all it wasn’t something we dealt with as a child), there are things we can do to help our kids. 

As a parent, you have to set the example. It is hard to put that phone down sometimes but you need to show your children that it is possible and even enjoyable. One important rule for parents and their children is no phone in the bedroom at night. Your kids, and yourself, need to sleep. That phone is a constant distraction.

Taking that a step further, I also encourage no phone or device use (of any kind) an hour before bedtime. The blue light of these devices can be overstimulating making it hard to fall asleep. Not enough sleep can be a major risk factor for depression. 

The Two-Hours-A-Day Rule

teen smartphone

Additionally, try to limit your child’s overall scrolling time per day to less than two hours. This doesn’t count time spent on homework. If they need the internet for a school project, that is fine. But, when homework is done the phone time needs to be limited. This might be especially hard on weekends but it is so important—encourage them to meet up with their friends, go for a walk, be active, get out of the house, anything but be on that phone. 

There are some apps that can help:  

  • Qustodio 
  • FamiSafe
  • OurPact
  • Boomerang Parental Control
  • ScreenTime
  • Screen Time Limit KidCrono
  • ESET Parental Control
  • Norton Family Parental Control
  • Limitly
  • ScreenLimit

More information on these applications can be found here.

Family Dinner Time

Lastly, keep the phones away at dinnertime. For numerous reasons, family dinnertime together without devices is extremely valuable. While it’s not always possible to have a sit down dinner together because of extracurriculars, put the screens away when you can make it happen. 

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Author: Whitney Halleman, LPC

Whitney is a licensed professional counselor who loves working with teen girls so they can live healthier lives and be more confident. She is happy to be living in her hometown of Lancaster again after living out of the area for the last ten years. She can be reached at: whitney@moveforwardlancaster.com.