Science

The truth about social media and screen time’s impact on young people

“Get off your phone!” Most parents will have found themselves yelling some version of this at their offspring – often to be met with eye-rolls.

We have all found ourselves spending more time on screens in recent years, with the rise of smartphones and social media. Children are no exception. The covid-19 pandemic also resulted in a huge rise in their screen time as a result of lockdowns and school closures.

There are a lot of scary claims about excess screen time for children and teenagers: that it is harming their mental health, leading to depression, eating disorders and even suicide, and is cutting into time they would otherwise spend socialising or exercising, causing loneliness and poor physical fitness. In short, the fear is that too much time on digital devices is ruining kids’ lives – and tech companies, which have designed their apps to hook us, are complicit. No wonder governments around the world are considering curtailing screen time for under-18s.

Yet a closer look at the evidence doesn’t support this overwhelmingly negative picture. This doesn’t mean tech giants are benign and don’t need more regulation. But it does mean we need to think more carefully about what healthy screen time for young people looks like and how best to make the online world accessible to them. So here’s a guide to what we really know about the impact of screens and social media.

One thing is clear in this complex area: children and adolescents now spend a lot of time on screens – just like the rest of us. A …


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