Does Increased Screen Times Correlate with Lower Health Outcomes?

Well, according to new data from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the short answer is: yes.

Data taken between 2010 and 2015 shows that suicide rates for teens increased after falling for almost twenty years and while there is not an exact reason for the spike, researchers suggest that spending more time in the digital world could have something to do with it.

Published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science the study argues that spending more time on personal electronic devices—a computer, cell phone, tablet, etc—seems to contribute to more instances of depression and suicidal thoughts among teens, and especially among teen girls.

Many suggest that teen suicides are often the result of cyberbullying but it could also be that teens are unhappy that their life is not as “perfect” as those depicted by other teens on social media; despite how well these teens understand that most of their peers conflate the positive and use the sympathy for attention.

And the longer you spend on social media, the more of this stuff you see.  That is, of course, the case according to San Diego State University psychologist Jean Twenge, who led the study. She agrees that this research has established a correlation between long, daily screen time hours and symptoms of loneliness, alienation, and depression.

Remember, they found a correlation and not necessarily a cause. Still, Twenge argues, “One hour, maybe two hours [a day], doesn’t increase risk all that much. But once you get to three hours — and especially four and then, really, five hours and beyond — that’s where there’s much more significant risk of suicide attempts, thinking about suicide and major depression.”

Perhaps more importantly, she warns that for girls, “a lot of social media revolves around concerns about popularity — am I going to get likes on this photograph, do I look good enough in this picture?”

She also describes how the study looked at potential for suicidal thoughts. “These include things like depression, thinking about suicide, making a plan to commit suicide and then actually having attempted suicide at some point in the past,” she comments.

Twenge concludes, “We need to stop thinking of smartphones as harmless.  There’s a tendency to say, ‘Oh, teens are just communicating with their friends.’ Monitoring kids’ use of smartphones and social media is important, and so is setting reasonable limits.”