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Adolescents and screentime: The good and the bad

kids screentime rules

Tablets, smart phones and handheld gaming devices are everywhere.  Like it or not, they're now part of everyday life. And while we don’t have all the research on the effects of screentime, we know that there are both positive and negatives.

The Good:

  • It can help build relationships. Adolescents who are in a minority group at their school and are connected with others who share similarities have shown decreased symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • It can reinforce positive behavior. Time spent on mobile devices is highly motivating for adolescents. For example, a teen could be offered more time on a device when homework is completed.
  • It can increase access to mental health tools. Relaxation apps such as Koi Pond or Guided Meditation may help improve your teen's mental health.
  • It can help with learning. There are many educational apps that have been vetted through evidence-based approaches and shown to increase learning, especially for rote memorization.
  • It can help raise awareness. Social media is often successfully used as a platform to raise awareness of political and social concerns.

The Bad:

  • When overused, it can become problematic.  Pervasive mobile device use can interfere with personal interactions, and to some, when mobile devices are removed, the users experience significant anxiety as though going through withdrawal. 
  • It can contribute to poor academic performance. Mobile device use displaces time for other activities, which includes studying. Research has shown that students with more mobile device problematic use were found to study less and had lower grades.
  • It can increase cyberbullying. Mobile devices provide a bullying tool for that can be used anonymously any time or day.

Next steps for parents:

  • Educate yourself. Try to understand the media and apps your adolescent is using. Commonsensemedia.org is a great reference.
  • Make a family media-use plan. To target the problem of overuse, create a family media-use plan, and stick to it. Be an example of appropriate media use for your teen.
  • Monitor your adolescent’s use. Many products, such as Qustodio or Symantec Norton Family Premier, are available to monitor time spent on a device.  Adolescents want privacy and independence but monitoring use is most important.

Behavioral Pediatrics

Assistant Professor of Pediatrics University of Missouri Kansas City School of Medicine

Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics

Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine; Education Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Kansas School of Medicine


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