Agonizing over screen time is one of the many modern-day parenting challenges—and not without reason. Screen usage among teenagers in the United States exceeds more than seven hours per day, on average, and this figure does not include screen usage related to school work1, according to a report by Common Sense Media2.
Experts on youth and media explain that both pros and cons are associated with statistics of growing screen time among children and adolescents.
Not all device activity correlates with negative outcomes, and in fact, teenagers can use their technology for a range of creative and intellectually stimulating activities3. On the other hand, risks associated with increased screen time include greater exposure to harmful online messages, increased social isolation, and reduced time for studying4 and related poorer academic achievement5.
Among the key negative effects of screen time is the way it can harm sleep.
Screen time before bed has deleterious impacts on the amount and quality of sleep. Blue light and interactivity from devices are antecedents to a mental environment conducive to sleep. In particular, blue light disrupts the release of the sleep hormone, melatonin, which, in turn, prolongs the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and impairs sleep quality6.
Although teenagers typically get less sleep than younger children, studies suggest that this age group needs nearly the same level of sleep in order to maintain healthy functioning7.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that teenagers age 14 – 17 years need between eight and ten hours of sleep daily and that children between six- and 13-years old need between nine and 11 hours of sleep per night8. Insufficient sleep in teens correlates with poorer academic performance, reduced self-esteem, higher occurrence of depressive symptoms, and increased substance use9.
Considering these risks, what are parents to do?
For parents with concerns about their children’s device usage, experts recommend talking to their kids openly, early, and often10. Setting age-appropriate boundaries with children and adolescents on types of screen time activities and time spent on their devices is crucial.
To protect against the detrimental impacts of screens and blue light on sleep, parents can develop guidelines that promote adequate sleep for their teens.
In particular, they can encourage their children to stay away from devices one hour prior to bedtime11. This guideline is important for people of all ages, and by setting good examples for their children, parents can help everyone in the family system get the sleep they need for healthy physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Not all device usage is created equal, however, and certain types of electronic media can help facilitate healthy sleep.
Parents can expose their children to the benefits of certain applications that help sleep, such as meditation, white noise, bedtime story, calming music apps, and others. Conversely, they can educate their children about the problematic influences of games, videos, social media, and other activities.