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The Link Between Excessive Screen Time and Suicide Risk is Growing Among Teenagers, Especially Girls

Screen time in teenagers
This entry was posted in Teen Depression on by .

The mental health crisis in the U.S. has grown steadily over the past decade, especially among teenagers, forcing many parents and caretakers to wonder if there is a connection between screen usage and depression and suicide.

It turns out there is, according to a recent study published in Clinical Psychological Science titled “Increases in Depressive Symptoms, Suicide-Related Outcomes, and Suicide Rates Among U.S. Adolescents After 2010 and Links to Increased New Media Screen Time.”

“There is a concerning relationship between excessive screen time and risk for death by suicide, depression, suicidal ideation, and suicidal attempts,” said Florida State University Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor Thomas Joiner, who co-authored the study with psychology Professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State University. “All of those mental health issues are very serious. I think it’s something parents should ponder.”

Rise of Depression and Suicide Rates

Teenage depression and suicide rates have seen a significant surge since 2010.

This alarming trend is highlighted in a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which cites the overuse of electronic devices as a potential driving factor behind this upswing.

From 2010 to 2015, teenager suicide rates escalated by 31%. Concurrently, a nationwide survey illustrated that there was a 33% increase in the number of adolescents who reported experiencing symptoms of severe depression.

The study also found a link between the rise in teenagers’ mental health issues and the increase in smartphone ownership since 2010. In 2012, approximately half of the U.S. population owned a smartphone. However, by 2015, this figure had nearly doubled, with 92% of teenagers and young adults owning one. Along with the increase in smartphone ownership, the time spent by these individuals on their screens also saw a considerable rise.

Additionally, nearly half of the teenagers who spent five or more hours a day on electronic devices exhibited behavior related to suicide. This figure starkly contrasts with the 28% of teenagers who spent less than an hour on electronic devices and reported similar behavior.

Teenage Girls are Most at Risk

Since 2010, depression and suicide rates among teenagers aged 13 to 18 rose, particularly among girls, up 58% and 65% respectively. Furthermore, there was a 14% increase in suicide-related behaviors, which include feelings of hopelessness, contemplating suicide, or making an attempt.

What to Do

Mitigating the mental health risks is simple but also easier said than done.

Teens who spend less time on screens and replace it with activities, including fitness, socializing in-person, and outings, are happier, the study found. 

Another study, published by the American Psychological Association, reported that teenagers spend more than eight hours per day on screens and that those with anxiety who reduced that time to one hour helped them feel better about their body image and appearance.

Of course, working with adolescents to change their behavior can be very challenging.

“It’s totally unrealistic and probably not even good to think kids will stop using screens,” stressed Professor Joiner. “It comes down to moderation. Parents should try to make non-screen activities as attractive as possible because a lot of them are attractive. It is fun to hang out with your friends or play basketball. Just remind kids those things are available, and they’re just as fun as trading texts. That’s the bottom line.”

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