Parents who let their teenage children spend more than two hours a day on screens may be setting them up for an unhappy, lonely and depressed existence, according to psychologist Jean Twenge.
In a video interview with the BBC, Twenge says children born between 1995 and 2012 – the iGen, as she calls them – have more risk factors for suicide because of Internet overdose.
The iGen is the first generation to spend their entire adolescence with a smartphone, a factor not to be overlooked as research shows these devices have had a tremendous influence on behavior, attitudes and mental health.
“Teens are spending a lot less time hanging out with their friends in person,” says Twenge, author of Generation Me. “They don’t go to parties as much; they don’t go shopping as much; and just, in general, they don’t hang out with their friends, in person, face to face, as much as they used to.”
The trend became strikingly obvious in 2011 and 2012, right around the time smartphones and tablets became ubiquitous. Around that same time, Twenge remembers recording a spike in symptoms of depression, anxiety and even suicide risk factors in teens, as part of the research for her book.
“iGen teens are telling us that they are suffering,” she says. “They feel more anxiety, more depression than teens did just five years ago.”
Teens who use smartphones around an hour a day face minimal risk factors, according to the research. However, teens spending two or more hours a day on their Internet-connected mobile devices face dramatically increased chances of experiencing any of these risk factors. Parents who wish to keep their offspring safe should set time limits on device usage, Twenge says.
Research conducted by Bitdefender earlier this year supports the psychologist’s findings. In June, we wrote that 15% of children under 18 years of age use a smartphone and a laptop/computer simultaneously, and for several hours a day.
Boys spend a third more time than girls do using their devices and, after 12 years of age, kids prefer to stay stuck to their smartphones, instead of their computer. After the age of 10, boys spend an hour more online than girls do. Our internal telemetry further shows that one in three visitors to porn video sites is a minor. And victims as young as 7 years of age are targeted online for webcam blackmailing and extortion, data released by the Europol shows.
Parents looking to keep their children out of harm’s way can approach this problem in several ways. For one, parents yearning peace and relaxation should avoid keeping their children busy with an Internet connected device. Setting rules for using computers, phones and tablets is another important factor. Parents should further instruct kids not to respond to spam, or to obscene or aggressive messages and to make sure they know their online friends in real life as well.
Finally, dedicated security solutions with parental controls can offer a high degree of risk mitigation, with multiple layers of administrative rights on family devices.