Unlimited screen time has a significant impact on the safety and well being of children. In 2021, parents ranked increased time on mobile devices as one of the most harmful effects of the pandemic. In fact, studies show that teens’ screen time more than doubled during the pandemic, with the average sitting around 4 hours per day in 2019, then jumping to nearly 8 hours per day in 2020. Half of surveyed teens say that they “feel addicted” to their phones, and 59% of those participants’ parents agree. In addition, 72% of teens feel the need to immediately respond to notifications, and nearly 80% check their devices at least once an hour.
Dangers of Increased Screen Time
Because of this increased screen time in the lives of young people, there is an increased chance of negative mental and emotional effects as a result. It has been reported that almost half of adolescents today will experience some form of mental health disorder in their lifetime, and teens who use social media for more than 3 hours per day are at a heightened risk. A persistent use of social media not only opens the door for negative outcomes like lower self-esteem and diminished body image, but also increases the likelihood of cyberbullying. A shocking 90% of teens believe that online harassment is normal, therefore these types of threats are no stranger to people who spend time on the internet.
In addition to cyberbullying, accidental exposure to pornography at a young age is another threat that minors face when spending time online. The average age at which children are first exposed to pornography has decreased by 2.5 years since 1985, falling to age 11. Early exposure to this type of inappropriate content can have many long term consequences such as the normalization of violence, lower self-esteem, loneliness, greater risk of depression, and an increased odds of teen pregnancy. Studies show that 1 in 7 children between ages 9 and 12 have shared a nude photo of themselves, and 1 in 3 have seen indecent photos of others that have been re-shared without consent. In 2020, one-third of reported child sexual abuse material was self generated, which only fuels the 84% of parents that are worried about their child’s safety while using the internet.
The Impact of Accidental Exposure
Accidental exposure most often occurs through innocently entering simple search phrases or open ended terms. Also, many young children are playing video games and consuming content on social media platforms that require or allow strangers to communicate with them. 43% of children ages 8 to 13 speak to strangers online, often without supervision while receiving unsolicited messages. Although these dangers are everywhere, there are many effective ways for parents and families to ensure that all experiences online are nothing but positive. Setting ground rules, enabling parental privacy and use controls, talking to children about potential dangers, and enforcing good habits while online are only a few of the ways that device usage can be made safer. Although studies show that almost 1 in 5 parents do not bother with parental controls, new technology has made them easy to use and difficult to bypass, ensuring that children are only consuming content that is targeted for their age group and maturity level.
Learn more about the impact of too much screen time in the infographic below: