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Your Healthy Family: Uptick in teen depression linked to screen time

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The study examined survey responses from more than half a million teens ranging from eighth-graders to high school seniors. The study examined survey responses from more than half a million teens ranging from eighth-graders to high school seniors.

Recent national surveys indicate that there has been an increase in the number of children between the ages of 13-18 who are depressed and suicidal, especially among young girls.

Now a new study looks at the increase in depression and how it could be linked to an increase in time spent on media devices and social media.

Kate Eshleman, PsyD of Cleveland Clinic Children’s did not take part in the study, but said the connection is plausible, as more time spent on devices means less time for other healthy activities.

“With an increase in use of screen time and social media, it results in a decrease in more face to face interaction, engaging in physical activities,” said Dr. Eshleman.  

The study examined survey responses from more than half a million teens ranging from eighth-graders to high school seniors.

Researchers found that those who reported spending more time on new media were more likely to report mental health issues. Likewise, those who spent more time in activities like sports and in-person social activities were less likely to report mental health issues.

Dr. Eshleman pointed out that it’s difficult to show a direct relationship between social media use and depression, but she said there are a couple of issues that parents need to be on the lookout for when it comes to screen time and social media use.

The amount of time matters – Dr. Eshleman recommends examining current guidelines about how much time is appropriate for children based on their age.

She said parents also need to closely monitor what their children are viewing on devices to ensure that it is appropriate.

“Are they watching movies and what kind of movies are those? Are they playing games and are those appropriate to their age? With social media, are they having positive interactions with these social media peers, or are those interactions negative? These are all things that parents need to be aware of,” said Dr. Eshleman.

When it comes to new media use, she said it’s best to set the ground rules early on.

“When you start using social media and more screens, you need to set the boundaries and let the kids know that you will be checking and monitoring,” said Dr. Eshleman. “You need to have open communication, so the kids expect that their parents are going to be monitoring what they’re looking at, and then be able to talk with them about what you see.”

When it comes to warning signs of a problem, Dr. Eshleman said parents should pay close attention to changes in behavior – like an increase or decrease in sleep or appetite, and changes in mood, such as increased irritability. These could be red flags for depression or suicidal thoughts in teens.

Complete results of the study can be found in Clinical Psychological Science.

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