BYU Survey: How much screen time is too much for children and parents?

Experts warn about the impact of screen time and social media on the mental health of children, especially adolescents, and parents are concerned. The new study suggests that parents should pay attention to their social media experiences for teens.

The Whitley Institute for Brigham Young University’s “Example Learning,” published Tuesday, found that two old worries – the amount of time teens spend on social media and the age at which they got their first smartphone – are not a reliable predictor of mental risk. Health problems among adolescents.

However, the harmful habits of parents on social networks can put their children at risk. In general, the report notes that parents’ use of the media is a stronger predictor of their children’s mental health than their child’s use of social media.

This does not mean that teenagers can use social media without the risk of negative impact. But how teenagers use social media, not how old they are, can lead to good or bad things in their lives, says Spencer James, co-author of the study, an associate professor at the BYU School of Family Life, and a Whitley Institute staffer.

The report found that adolescents with higher levels of parental social networking use were more likely to be depressed. About 10% of teens who report low levels of social networking use are depressed, and almost 40% of those who report high levels of social networking use are depressed.

Other research findings include:

  • About 15% of parents say they spend more than eight hours a day on social media.
  • Parents say that 7-10% of children who spend less than half an hour a day on social networks suffer from depression. The number of children whose parents spend more than seven hours on social networks increases from 33% to 41%.
  • The vast majority of children – 80% – who spend several hours and hours a day on social media, do the same.
  • For many teens, frequent social media channels are associated with poor mental health. Among those who regularly eat, 86% of women and 79% of men suffer from depression. Among those who sell food or never clean, 35% of women and 22% of men report depression.
  • About 15% of teens say that their parents use social media a lot and that they are distracted when they ask questions or want to talk to them.

Young people are vulnerable to various risks, including the use of smartphones and social media, the study said. This is called differential resilience and can help explain why the broad statement that something is good or bad is wrong for some teenagers.

James agrees that the same story affects people differently.

“Much of this has to do with maturity, and much depends on the family. It depends on your socio-economic status, the quality of your education, the type of area where you live, ”he said. “All of these factors mean that we should not expect the impact of social media to be the same for everyone. Of course, the development of this group, not adolescents, is a significant change among adults or at this time.

Why parenting is important

When parents are so distracted by technology that they seem to be unable to pay full attention to their children, this can interfere with the parent-child relationship and damage that relationship. Researchers call this “techno-conference” and say it can affect children’s mental health and well-being.

About half of the teens surveyed by the National Representation said the tech conference was not a problem at home. But for 15%, this is a big problem. As a result, young people feel that they are not important or a priority, and that their parents cannot contact them when they need help or want something to say. According to the same number, their parents do not respond, comfort or understand.

The report notes that the warmth of parents is closely linked to the mental health of adolescents. “Heat is not a guarantee of good mental health – there are teenagers in every category who suffer from depression. … But the warm attitude of parents seems to change, ”the statement said.

The technology conference is also closely linked to children’s outcomes, the report said. When parental technology is scarce, 1 in 12 children will struggle with depression. However, almost two-thirds of teens living in high-tech homes suffer from depression.

“If a parent routinely uses social media while trying to get their child’s attention, he or she will send a message that the child will not be seen or appreciated by the parent. Not surprisingly, this affects the child’s mental state, says Sarah Coin, a professor at the BYU School of Family Life and lead author of the study.

How teens use social media

When teenagers compare themselves with others, this can lead to image damage. Although the authors of the study doubted that frequent curation of social media channels could be beneficial for young people because they could choose the people they interacted with, they found that the practice was associated with poor mental health.

However, the results for transgender and non-binary youth were somewhat contradictory. Ninety-four percent of transgender and non-transgender teens report depression because they do not supervise their channels. Depression was less when they chose their own channels and who to talk to.

James believes that transgender and non-binary teens may not feel safe or accepted in the real world, but can find acceptance and support online. Other young people who choose and choose may choose people who want to be their role models and may eventually become depressed or have problems with body image because they compare themselves and feel inadequate.

The study also found protective factors. People who do positive things on social networks – posting positive comments, liking other people’s posts, instant messaging friends – may have a more positive body image than those who don’t actively use social media.

However, researchers warn that less than 1 in 5 teens use social media so actively.

According to the researchers, passive review did not benefit from active use, but it did not lead to negative results.

The survey also asked each teen’s favorite social media site: TickTock topped the list with 31.8%, followed by Instagram with 25.8%, Facebook with 19.2%, Snapchat with 10.8%, Twitter with 5% and What’sApp 2, 2% were favorites. .

False decision?

The study refutes the “general story” that teens will stop using social media and remove their phones, which will improve their mental health. Previous studies have shown that screen time is “only 0.4% of the variance associated with depression and anxiety.”

Researchers have compared the effects of eating potatoes on mental health – an association that is rarely highlighted in the media. “99.6% of the dispersion in mental health is explained by other factors” is something like a nutritious breakfast or enough sleep.

James reiterated the differences: “We don’t expect people who use social media primarily to connect with family members and share photos of their babies and cousins ​​to be as insane as people who are constantly debating politics online. brother and their high school friend. ”

He rejected the idea that if everyone turned off their phones and computers and talked to each other, the whole problem would be solved. Families with strict rules on the use of the media do not always achieve good results.

“In fact, the opposite is true. We’ve found that teens whose parents set strict rules on social media are more likely to be depressed. It will happen, “said James.

About the survey

The national representative survey was conducted between May and August 2021 and covered two subjects – 2,231 adolescents aged 10-17, whose social media use, mental health, and how their parents used social media. In addition, a paired group of 201 adolescents and their parents were surveyed. Subjects were in the Qualtrics survey.

In the report, the authors noted that they found a correlation, not a causal relationship. Parental use was closely linked to the mental health outcomes of their adolescent children, but the study did not show other factors, they said. They stressed the need for more research on this topic to explain the differences.

“Our findings on technology show that parental use of technology can disrupt the parent-child relationship,” said Emily Weinstein, research director at Harvard High School and another co-author of the report. “Future research should examine the content and context of parental social media use in relation to adolescent mental health before drawing too many conclusions.”

Other co-authors of the study include Megan Gale, a recent BYU alumnus, and Megan Van Alfen, a BYU graduate student.

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