By: Richard Zeidel
As parents we are all very conscientious of the amount of time our kids spend on screens. Given their pervasiveness, whether phones, tablets, gaming consoles or old school television, it’s hard not to concede to the idea that they will continue to represent an important part of our children’s lives. Despite acknowledging their importance as communication, learning and gaming tools many of us question the negative impact this could have in the future.
There is such an abundance of informatiom related to depression and parenting, and too much conjecture, that it is wortwhile to summarize some of the academic research we have been reviewing as part of our work for mind.me.
For the first time, evidence-based literature is substantiating concerns and identifying linkeages in children between screen time and depression and suicide. [i]
We are the models by which our children base their behavior. As a result, it is notable that the average adult touches their phone over 2,000 times a day, with ~2 hours of activity. Heavy users touch their phone almost 5,500 times with ~4 hours of daily activity.[ii]
So, we check our phones every six minutes. Do we care about 1–2 million taps a year? The data says no, but as parent’s we should pay more attention to the behavior we are modeling for our kids. There is a growing body of evidence that, for at least some of the most frequent young users, this may be having unintentional negative consequences.
An April 2017 study of U.S. children in grades 8 through 12 concluded that those who spent more time on screens were more likely to report mental health issues, and those who spent more time on nonscreen activities were less likely.[iii]
Since 2010, Generation Z adolecents (mid-1990s to early-2000s) have spent more time onscreen, which may account for the increases in depression and suicide. [iv] The authors of the study rightly articulate that “it is worth remembering that human’s neural architecture evolved under conditions of close, mostly continuous face-to-face contact with others and that a decrease or removal of a system’s key inputs may risk destabilization of the system.”
The average American teenager, who uses a smart phone, receives her first phone at age 10[v] and spends over 4.5 hours a day on it (excluding texting and talking).[vi] 78% of teens check their phones at least hourly and 50% report feeling “addicted” to their phones [vii]. It would defy common sense to argue that this level of usage, by children whose brains are still developing, is having no impact.
Despite U.S. federal regulations requiring children to be 17 years old to open a a YouTube account and 13 on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, marketing firm Influence Central’s 2016 report found that 39% of kids get their first social media account at age 11.
Smartphones are designed to bait us with a mix of instant gratification, validation and rejection. In our children’s generation’s on demand media and random positive reinforcement (one of the ingredients in the creation of addiction) via likes and shares, there is a clear line of sight to addiction. The result is a system that interrupts our daily activites by demanding constant attention, increases depression and anxiety, and creates a currency which distorts the value of real world relationships.
According to an American Psychological Association (APA) survey of over 3,500 U.S. parents, 58% say they worry about the influence of social media on their child’s physical and mental health, 48% say that regulating their child’s screen time is a “constant battle,” and 58% say they feel like their child is “attached” to their phone or tablet.
Here’s a summary of what we know about depression amongst this cohort:
- Depressive symptoms, suicide-related outcomes (i.e., suicidal ideation, plans, and attempts) and suicide deaths among adolescents all rose during the 2010’s[viii]
- Between 2009/2010 and 2015 33% more adolescents exhibited higher levels of depressive symptoms, and 31% more died by suicide[ix]
- The increase in depressive symptoms and suicide was driven almost exclusively by females[x]
- There is data to suggest that there are increases in counseling use among high school students[xii]
- It is well documented that experiencing depression as a teenager significantly increases the risk of a major depressive episode again later in life.
- And here’s the correlation to screen activities:
- Adolescents using electronic devices 3 or more hours a day were 34% more likely to have a least one suicide related outcome [xiii]
- Adolescents using social media sites every day were 13% more likely to report high levels of depressive symptoms[xiiii]
- Screen time, especially social media, may have larger effects on adolescent girl’s mental health than on boys’[xv]
- Adolescents low in in-person social interaction and high in social media use reported the highest levels of depressive symptoms. This was counter balanced by adolescents who had high in-person social interaction and high social media usage[xvi]
- Adolescents who spent more time on homework had lower depressive symptoms, ruling out homework as a possible cause of depression[xvii]
- Conclusion? There is a growing body of research which says that screen time should be understood as an important modern risk for depression and suicide.
As technologists, parents and patients, we take our children’s mental health seriously. It is ironic that screens, and in particular mobile phones, are both part of the problem and the solution.
So, what is mind.me doing to help?
Because an increasing portion of our children’s lives are played out on screens it isn’t unreasonable to believe that if you’re trying to understand their mental health a lot of how they are feeling will be represented on their personal device.
mind.me is a mobile application that detects, manages and will ultimately predict depression. Within the application we have a feature called the “Circle of Trust” in which parents can be notified if mind.me detects a negative change in mood for their child.
While notifications may be sent to parents, no other information is provided as part of this feature, so there should be no pushback from kids who are concerned about the contents of their texts or Snaps.
The model is simple.
mind.me enables early detection of depression to allow for proper intervention. This should lead to better treatment outcomes and shorten the duration and severity of depressive episodes.
Proper mental hygiene is a combination of many factors. It is now clear that screen usage negatively impacts the happiness and wellbeing of our children. mind.me hopes to make a significant contribution to the health, safety and security of our children.
We think we all have a shared responsibility to make sure the kids are alright.
[i][iii][iv][viii][ix][x][xi][xv][xvi][xvii] Jean M Twenge, Thomas E. Joiner, Megan L. Rogers and Gabrielle N. Martin. “Increases in Depressive Symptoms, Suicide-Related Outcomes, and Suicide Rates Among U.S. Adolescents After 2000 and Links to Increased New Media Screen Time.”
[ii] dscout’s inaugural study on humans and their tech. June 2016.
[vi][vii]Common Sense Media. (2015). The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens
[v] Influence Central. (2016) Kids & Tech: The Evolution of Today’s Digital Natives
[xiii][xiiii]Brian A. Primack, Ariel Shensa, César G. Escobar-Viera, Erica L. Barrett, Jaime E. Sidani, Jason B. Colditz, A. Everett James. “Use of multiple social media platforms and symptoms of depression and anxiety: A nationally-representative study among U.S. young adults.”Tags: depression, mental health, smartphones, teenagers, youth