Study finds screen addiction major cause behind unhappiness in teens

The smile on the face of a teen, bent over to play a game or post an update on his/her social media account on the smartphone, may not necessarily be an indication of happiness but could signal the level of involvement. A new study conducted to determine the outcome of the long hours spent on the electronic devices has concluded that more time spent in front of the screen coincided with lesser happiness among the youth.

Those who spent their free time playing outdoors sports, reading books or magazines and interacting with others, showed greater levels of happiness, as compared to the ones who spent that time on their phones playing games or using social media to connect with others. Limiting the time spent on digital media to under an hour per day brought greater satisfaction, but after the initial one hour, the level of unhappiness increased. According to the lead author of the study and professor of psychology at San Diego State University, Jean M. Twenge, ‘teens whose eyes are habitually glued to their smartphones are markedly unhappier’. She is of the opinion that screen time drives unhappiness and not the other way around.

Use of smartphones impacts psychological well-being

Using data from the Monitoring the Future (MtF) longitudinal study, Twenge and her colleagues carried out a detailed survey with students studying in grades 8, 10 and 12. They were asked questions related to the amount of time they spent on their mobiles, tablets or computers as compared to the time they spent meeting people face-to-face. Inputs about their overall happiness was also gathered.

Twenge, who has also authored iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — And Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, said that though the study doesn’t establish a causal relationship, many other studies have established the fact that increased social media deprives one of happiness instead of sadness driving one to be active on social media and using it more often.

This is not to imply that completely restraining the young ones from using the devices would bring happiness, said Twenge. Limiting its use to not more than two hours a day can prevent sadness from creeping into the lives of teens. It is in the long hours of use when sense of mental unease and unhappiness engulfs the young user. Twenge suggested that meeting friends and family in person more often and engaging in regular exercise are the two chief means to achieving a happy state of mind.

If one was to study the youth trends during the 1990s, it could be seen that with the steady increase of screen devices over time, there was also a diminishing state of reported happiness in American teens. 2012 onwards, the young generation was found to be lacking a sense of satisfaction, self-esteem and happiness. It was in this year that the number of Americans owning a smartphone rose to above 50 percent. According to Twenge, creation of smartphones could be the single most reason for a sudden dip in psychological well-being of teens.

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