Are Teens Spending Too Much Time Staring At Screens?

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It’s not an uncommon sight—as you walk down the street, you notice most people’s eyes are glued to their phones. Not just teens, but adults are guilty of this too. But how much screen time is too much? Well, if we’re going by expert recommendations, teens are getting way too much screen time! But not so fast—it turns out the official guidelines may be a bit outdated. Experts suggest it’s time to rethink the recommended amounts of screen time for adolescents.

Back in 2001, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that children over the age of two should get less than two hours of screen time a day. To see how this suggestion holds up 14 years later, researchers at the University of Western Australia decided to survey more than 2,600 youth aged 8-16 about their usage of electronic devices. This included everything from TVs to iPads, iPod Touches to laptops, Portable PlayStation to Xboxes, and more.

Based on the adolescents surveyed, 63 percent surpassed the government guidelines—meaning they get more than two hours of screen time daily. This amount varied by age group. For example, 80 percent of teens ages 14-15 got more screen time than recommended.

The study’s lead researcher Stephen Houghton says,

As anticipated boys were more likely than girls to exceed the less than 2 hours recommendation for playing computer games. But it was unexpected that girls were more likely than boys to exceed the less than 2 hours recommendation for social networking, web use, and TV/DVD/movies.

Since a majority of teens are spending time staring at screens—whether in school or at home—this means it may be time to rethink those guidelines. Houghton explains,

The introduction of mobile devices suggests the less than two hours per day recommendation may no longer be tenable given the surge in social media engagement and school derived screen use. Guidelines for appropriate screen use, should also take into account the extent to which screen use differs across form, activity, sex, and age.

While the guidelines should certainly be adjusted to reflect realistic usage, this doesn’t mean it’s an excuse to spend extra time with our faces behind screens. Instead, try encouraging your teens to try setting a tech curfew! After all, more screen time leads to a poor sleep schedule—and sleep is an essential part of teen health for a multitude of reasons.

For more about the importance of sleep, check out “The Teen Who Woke Up Her School.” The story was featured in the September issue of Choicesa teen health, well-being, and life skills magazine.