Kids & Smartphones: Just How Bad (or Good) is Screen Time for Teens and Tweens?

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Every day kids are flooded by messages on their screens in­tended to inform, amuse, and influence them. At the same time, it’s getting more and more difficult for parents and caregivers to monitor everything their kids see and do on that screen. What does that inundation do to their psyche? How do you know what is the right amount of screen time for kids? It turns out, there are differing opinions. Let’s take a look at whether screen time is good or bad for kids when it comes to self-esteem and overall mood.

A November 2015 survey by Common Sense Media found that two-thirds of teens have smartphones. But less than half say they use social media on a daily basis. That same study also noted that kids aged 8 and younger spent about 15 minutes per day looking at mobile screens in 2013. By 2017 that number had more than tripled to 48 minutes per day.[1] But the American Academy of Pediatrics warned in 2017 that overuse of digital media and screens could put teens at risk of obesity, sleep problems, cyberbullying and negative performance at school.[2]

One national survey found that increased use of social media sites Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram led to increased feelings of teen depression, anxiety, poor body image, and loneliness. But YouTube had a positive impact on teens.[3] Could this be because social media has become a personal highlight reel of the good things in our lives? Teens who’ve created idealized personas online may feel discouraged and depressed at the gap between who they pretend to be online and who they truly are. Think of it as the digital generation’s version of “keeping up with the Joneses.” Researchers found that the happiest teens used digital media for less than an hour per day. After a daily hour of screen time, unhappiness rose steadily along with increasing screen time.[4]

After 2010, teens who spent more time on screens were more likely to report mental health issues than those who spent time on non-screen activities. Is it possible that kids with low self-esteem or those struggling with depression just spend more time on their phones and other screens? The author of one study was quick to suggest that her research doesn’t prove cause and effect, simply a correlation.[5]  Overall, the evidence uncovered in these studies indicates moderate use of social media and digital technology is not intrinsically harmful and may be advantageous in a connected world, but finding the right balance is important – and challenging.[6] So does that mean screen time isn’t bad? Like many things when it comes to raising teenagers, it’s not so easy.

So what can parents do, short of taking away phones from their kids and watching everything they do online? Here are some recommendations:

1. Take Social Media Seriously
When talking about social media make sure you’re sincerely listening and being careful not to dismiss or minimize your teen’s experiences. Chances are you’re another one of the 1 billion people on Facebook connecting with old classmates, and you may well remember the stings of adolescence.

2. Actively talk about the meaning and effects of media – including social media
It takes commitment and effort on the part of par­ents to monitor and help interpret these external influences on kids. Having conversations about what you see in movies you watch together or in magazines opens up ways to discuss how we present ourselves to the world and interpret how others do as well.

3. Screen Time Shouldn’t Be Treated as a Reward – Or a Punishment
Making screen time a non-event means playing down its importance. While it can be an enjoyable diversion, screens shouldn’t be treated as a reward, and their absence shouldn’t be thought of as punitive.

4. Establish Device-free Times and Zones
It goes without saying that students should not be using their smartphones in the classroom, but where else is the screen off limits? Setting boundaries for your teenagers for where they can access their phones may offer parents the ability to better monitor what their kids are seeing.

5. Limit Bedtime Screen Time
Screen time can disrupt sleep and throw off the body’s internal clock leading to hormonal imbalances and inflammation.[7] Because of this, it is often recommended that kids (and adults) turn off their device 60 minutes before bedtime. Bedroom media also impact risk for obesity and video game addiction.[8

6. Set the Example
Healthy habits start with parents because kids are watching and learning all the time, so maybe now is the time to consider giving everyone in the house needs an electronic curfew. Being a role model is important when using digital devices and with how we present ourselves in social media and on-screen. Kids need to know its ok to be real online and that everyone struggles sometimes.

We’ve talked about body image and self-esteem in adolescence before. A child’s self-esteem affects how he or she feels day-to-day, impacting their relationships with others and how they do at school and in social situations.[9] Social and emotional learning and school climate both have an impact on student success and academic achievement. That’s why Pride Surveys created our learning environment survey to measure students’ perceptions and behaviors that affect student engagement.

The benefit of choosing a survey company is that we take the guesswork out of the surveying process to ask the difficult questions. Browse the different types of scalable student surveys we offer and find out why Pride Surveys is the best choice to help you survey your school. Questions? Give us a call at 800-279-6361 or fill out our quick online contact form.


[1] “The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens.” Retrieved 20 February, 2018 at

[2] “Why to Limit Your Child’s Media Use.” Retrieved 20 February, 2018 at

[3] “Instagram Ranked Worst for Mental Health in Teen Survey.” Retrieved 20 February, 2018 at

[4] “Screen-Addicted Kids Are Unhappy.” Retrieved 20 February, 2018 at

[5] “Decreases in Psychological Well-Being Among American Adolescents After 2012 and Links to Screen Time During the Rise of Smartphone Technology.” Retrieved 20 February, 2018 at

[6] “A Large-Scale Test of the Goldilocks Hypothesis.” Retrieved 20 February, 2018 at

[7] “Screentime Is Making Kids Moody, Crazy and Lazy.” Retrieved 20 February, 2018 at

[8] “Bedroom media: One risk factor for development.” Retrieved February 20, 2018 at

[9] “11 Facts About Teens and Self-Esteem.” Retrieved 20 January, 2018 at

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