Family, Kids & Relationships

Teens Agree — They Spend Too Much Time On Phones

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Many teens may appear to spend an inordinate amount of time on their phones and using social media, but that doesn’t mean they’re happy about it. More than half of teens agree that they spend too much time on their phones, says a Pew Research Center report.

According to the surveys behind the report, 95 percent of teens aged 13 to 17 say they have a smartphone or access to one, and 45 percent say they are online almost constantly. When asked about the impacts of social media use on young people, teens are split: 31 percent believe it has a mostly positive effect, 24 percent classify it as having a mostly negative effect, and 45 percent say the impact is neither positive nor negative. 

Some of the top reasons teens had for emphasizing the positive side of social media included staying connected with friends and family, the ease of finding news and information, and meeting others with the same interests. As one teen respondent said, “It has given many kids my age an outlet to express their opinions and emotions, and connect with people who feel the same way.” Another wrote that social media is empowering because it “gives us a voice that can reach many people.”

On the negative side of social media’s effects, survey respondents pointed to a variety of issues including cyber-bullying and rumor spreading, a lack of face-to-face contact with people, getting unrealistic perceptions of others’ lives, and the potential for getting distracted by and addicted to its use. One teen wrote, “People can say whatever they want with anonymity and I think that has a negative impact.” Another pointed out, “It makes it harder for people to socialize in real life, because they become accustomed to not interacting with people in person.”

Teens in Colorado listed phones, social media, and selfie culture as stressors contributing to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues in kids their age — along with a mix of other factors such as school pressures, the political climate and state of the world, and feeling emotionally isolated from others.

But, encouragingly, Pew reported that most teens also recognize the need to find more balance in life when it comes to screen time: just over half say they’ve made an effort to reduce time spent on their phones, 57 percent have tried to limit their own social media use, and 58 percent have tried to cut back on playing video games. Devorah Heitner, author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in a Digital World, emphasizes the importance of having self-awareness about the impact that your media usage and screen time is having on your own life. “If getting on social media or playing lots of video games is having an effect on your mental health, sleep or your relationships, you should think about making some changes.”

Joanna Eng is a staff writer and digital content specialist at ParentsTogether. She lives with her wife and two kids in New York, where she loves to hike, try new foods, and check out way too many books from the library.