Image credit: Matylda Czarnecka

Think. Discuss. Act. Digital Youth

Print Friendly and PDF

Review: teens are spending nearly all their waking hours staring at screens

Megan Willett (May 26, 2016). “A study says teens are spending nearly all their waking hours staring at screens,” Tech Insider: Culture., accessed June 4, 2016.

Jessica Contrera (May 25, 2016). The Screen Age: “13, right now: This is what it’s like to grow up in the ages of likes, lols and longing,” The Washington Post., accessed June 4, 2016.

Caitlin Gibson (May 25, 2016) The Screen Age: “Who are these kids? Inside the race to decipher today’s teens, who will transform society as we know it,” The Washington Post, accessed June 4, 2016.


In this post, we consider three articles about teens and screen time posted in May, 2016.

Gibson introduces her article in the headquarters of a consulting firm, Center for Generational Kinetics. A serious focus group with five girls, 10-13, is taking place.

“I once opened my phone after being gone for one day, and I had 219 text messages,” 10-year-old Kiera says.

“I lost my phone for a week once, and I had three thousand messages,” 11-year-old Molly announces with a dramatic flourish.

We know about this, but we’re not sure how to process it and what to do about it. These are post-Millennials, iGen or Gen-Z, which includes older teenagers. Pre-teens and teenagers have smart phones given by parents who want to stay in touch given hectic family schedules. But given this open access to the world, teens feel a social obligation to stay connected with friends, their broader circle of peers, and the world. Snapchat (100 million users), Instagram (400 million users), Facebook, news apps and Google, give the young person these necessary connections.

Cultural pressures have led young people into an unusual individualistic or self-enclosed world needing constant connections—and without which life alone seems boring. How much time are they spending in social media? Common Sense Media’s 2015 study reported: nine hours a day. The younger 8-12 group is spending an average of nearly six hours a day on screens.

The reality of screen time, beginning in childhood, is an inescapable reality for most. Educational apps and TV shows have been shown to produce beneficial skills in the young. Busy parents have also found important breaks for their own responsibilities or necessary relaxation with their children profitably engrossed.

An article in the April 2016 edition of Psychology Today talks about the effects of screen time on children:

When very small children get hooked on tablets and smartphones, says Dr. Aric Sigman, an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society and a Fellow of Britain’s Royal Society of Medicine, they can unintentionally cause permanent damage to their still-developing brains. Too much screen time too soon, he says, “is the very thing impeding the development of the abilities that parents are so eager to foster through the tablets. The ability to focus, to concentrate, to lend attention, to sense other people’s attitudes and communicate with them, to build a large vocabulary—all those abilities are harmed.”

Put more simply, parents who jump to screen time in a bid to give their kids an educational edge may actually be doing significantly more harm than good—and they need to dole out future screen time in an age-appropriate matter. (“Kids’ Brains: Too much at the worst possible age can have lifetime consequences, Psychology Today, April 17, 2016,, accessed June 4, 2016)

This same article from Psychology Today quotes Dr. Victoria Dunckley, an integrative psychologist who concludes that youthful screen time could be leading to “sensory overload, lack of restorative sleep, and a hyperaroused nervous system,” which she calls, “electronic screen syndrome.”

…the blue light smartphone screens emit can confuse our brains and stop them from producing melatonin, allowing us to become increasingly distracted, making it harder to sleep, and putting us at an increased risk for obesity as well as breast and prostate cancers.

For further information about the effects of blue light, see “How smartphone light affects your brain and body., accessed June 4, 2016.

A 2016 study in the journal Anxiety Disorders Association of America links sustained use of social media contributing to depression.

But see also Lindsay H. Shaw and Larry M. Gant, “In Defense of the Internet: The Relationship between Internet Communication and Depression, Loneliness, Self-Esteem, and Perceived Social Support,” Cyber-Psychology & Behavior, July 2004, 5(2): 157-171. (Subscription or purchase required.) “Participants engaged in five chat sessions with an anonymous partner…. Changes in their scores (on scales measuring depression, loneliness, self-esteem, and social support) were tracked over time. Internet use (presumably of these adults) was found to decrease loneliness and depression significantly, while perceived social support and self-esteem increased significantly. This study is important, but it does not deal particularly on the young, and overuse of social media.

Some concluding thoughts reached by Caitlin Gibson (above) are these:

… this is a particularly challenging generation to characterize. They are the most racially diverse generation in American history. They are extremely open-minded and fluid in the way they think about gender and sexuality. Because their digital movements are so trackable, they are prone to being data-mined and stereotyped—yet surveys show they prize individuality over conformity.

“Ironically enough, the fact they’re so individualistic makes them like everybody else,” Dorsey notes dryly.

…Still, a few clear trends emerge over several hour-long focus group interviews. Most of the youth interviewed by Villa and Denison say they spend between two and five hours a day in front of screens. The girls tend to focus their energy on texting and connecting with their friends through social apps such as Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube and Snapchat; the boys are more likely to lurk on Reddit and play games (many games, for many hours) on smartphones and Xboxes. None of them use Facebook much, except to appease adult relatives (or “old people” as 15-yr-old Daniel put it).

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Has the interest that brought you to this article, and questions that you might have had, been satisfied? Why or why not.
  2. As a youth worker, parent, teacher or whomever, are you convince that those who care about young people should be in touch with research about youth and the culture?
  3. How does such research need to be integrated with what you are finding out, beyond focus groups, by living with them or being with them so many hours a week? What is the benefit of such integrated information and wisdom?
  4. What point of the article above most impressed you, or with what did you take exception and disagree?
  5. How is this article about adults just as much as about kids?
  6. How are youth, late Millennials and Gen-Y changing society generally? Are these changes determined, or can they be modified in the process of change?


Telegraph and telephone, radio, television, the Internet and smart phones have changed successive generations (and before all these, consider print). There is much we can learn from these momentous social changes.

  1. The digital age is here, and it affects all of us, children and adults. Beginning with adults, we must consider with young people the ethics and disciplines of dealing with social media in order to affect the common good of society.
  2. To the degree that children and youth in less advantaged families and communities are being more severely hurt and less effectively benefited by digital innovations, we have a responsibility to level the playing field of early and on-going education, employment and a fulfilled and dignified life.

Dean Borgman

© 2019 CYS

Sources: See several good sources cited above.

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *