Excessive Screen Time Links to mental health in teens

Charumati Rogers, Staff Writer

Sweep aside the hair of an average teen today and, surprisingly, one might find an odd growth: a skull horn. Located at the base of the skull, this odd growth results from constantly looking down at a smartphone.

Studies have also shown that physical disorders, such as brain problems and other pains of the body, are linked to a teen’s screen time.

Austrailian university​ professors studied the phenomenon and found that out of 218 people ages 18 to 30, about 40 percent had a bone growth near the base of the skull called an “enlarged external occipital protuberance,” or EEOP. They reported that the development of these growths may be attributed to extensive screen-time, especially bending the head down or bad posture from students who have experienced physical symptoms. ​Studies also show that excessive screen time can increase obesity, sleep deprivation, back pain, neck pain and eye strains.

​“I’m not on my phone to where my neck or back is hurting, but I would recommend [students] keep the lights on while they are looking at their phones because looking at a screen in the dark does cause eye problems,” junior Christine Vivo said.

Not only are physical disorders rising from increased screen time, but mental illness rates are also rising. Recent studies are now revealing a compelling link between the rising rate of mental illness and the amount of time teens spend on devices.

According to the website “Common Sense Media,” teens should spend a maximum of two hours of recreational screen time a day. However, the Pew Research Foundation found that teens spend roughly nine hours of recreational screen time on their phone a day.

“I spend about two and a half hours on my phone a day, but that’s because I don’t have any social media,” sophomore Hailey Morris said. “The main reason why teens are on their phones for more than the recommended time is because of social media.”

Morris says that she doesn’t have the time to go on her phone, and when she does, it is usually to text her parents or look at the time. As someone who cares about her academic performance more than the texts she gets on her phone — which she happily puts on airplane mode while working on her homework — Morris says she has to set procrastination aside and get the important things done first.

The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health Foundation has proven that the content social media shows does cause teens to be on their phones for more than the recommended time.

“​It’s not necessarily social media that’s causing these issues,” The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health Foundation said. “It’s more likely the videos and popularity in social media that young people are exposed to and its hindrance of healthy sleep and exercise.”

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that about 68 percent of teens go to bed with their phones right beside them and about 36 percent of those teens check their phones within 30 minutes of falling asleep, which not only increases teen screen time but also interrupts sleep patterns.

In 2018, the National Institutes of Health financed a $300 million project called Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study (ABCD.) that aimed to reveal how brain development was affected by a range of experiences, including substance abuse, concussions and

screen time. The study shows that teens who spent more than three hours looking at a screen had a premature thinning of the cortex, which can cause behavioral issues and learning disabilities. The American Academy of Pediatrics has also focused on the parents and questioned if

they were doing anything to prevent excessive amounts of screen time for their child. They found that many parents didn’t have the time or energy to or talk to their kids about staying off their phones for a certain amount of time.

“​Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them,” the American Academy of Pediatrics said on their website.​ “The excessive amount of screen time these teens are getting needs to be handled by the parents.”

Morris said that when she fails to abide by her family’s rules about phones being used for more than two hours a day, her parents take her phone away. If she has social media apps, her parents will banish other privileges, like television or recreational activities. She agrees that much of the burden to monitor a teen’s screen time falls on the parents.

“If it’s a kid, the parents should definitely monitor their screen time,” Morris said. “If it’s a teen, then the parents could monitor them, but that’s on the teen if they choose to scroll through Instagram rather than study for a math test the very next day.”

As a math teacher, Lucy Mix has to keep her students focused on their work, but it’s become a struggle when students are constantly checking their phones during class.

“Positive social interactions, social media and texting are more enjoyable than math work,” Mix said. “Students like playing games and talking with their friends rather than doing their school work.”

Although Bear Creek rolled out its one-to-one Chromebook program this year, thereby increasing a teen’s exposure to screens, the cell phone policy has become more strict and now require teachers to confiscate students’ phones if they are out during class time. The policy is intended to reduce screen time during school hours and keep students off phones for the entire class period.