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EDITORIAL: Screen time & teens' mental health: Follow Jobs' lead ...

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review - 8/23/2017

Aug. 23--Smartphones and social media have many benefits. But for those born between 1995 and 2012, never knowing the pre-internet world and growing up with such technology, screen time is increasingly a mentally unhealthy obsession -- which parents should address.

San Diego State University psychology professor Jean M. Twenge has researched generational differences for 25 years. Labeling these youngsters "iGen," she writes for The Atlantic that she "noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states" around 2012, "when the proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent."

Spending so much time on smartphones in their bedrooms, today's teens "are physically safer than teens have ever been." But teen depression and suicide rates "have skyrocketed since 2011," putting "iGen ... on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades."

There's "compelling evidence" that smartphones are "making them seriously unhappy" -- including an annual survey funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse since 1977. It links teens' increased screen time to higher likelihood of unhappiness, loneliness and suicide risk. Screen time also hinders social skills: "In the next decade, we may see more adults who know just the right emoji for a situation, but not the right facial expression," Ms. Twenge writes.

"Even Steve Jobs limited his kids' use of the devices he brought into the world," she notes. Given the detriments from kids' cloistered screen time, today's parents need to follow his lead.

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(c)2017 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)

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