Think your teenager would be happier if he or she spent no time texting, using social media, or playing games on phones or tablets?

Granted, this study shows that adolescents who spent more time on social media, the internet, texting, etc., and less time on in-person interactions, sports, homework, etc. had "lower psychological well-being." 

But totally cutting out screen time didn't make teens happy, either.

What's the sweet spot? Right around one hour per day.

As Jean Twenge, one of the authors of the study, says, "The key to digital media use and happiness is limited [italics added] use. Aim to spend no more than two hours a day on digital media, and try to increase the amount of time you spend seeing friends face-to-face and exercising -- two activities reliably linked to greater happiness."

While Twenge stresses that the study does not prove that higher screen time causes higher levels of unhappiness (causation and correlation are two very different things), psychological well-being was found to be lower in years when teens spent more time on screens and higher in years when they spent more time on non-screen activities -- with increases in screen time typically occurring before happiness levels declined.

In simple terms, kids who spend time on social media and watching videos tend to become less happy, not more.

Of course the solution -- limiting your kids' screen time to around an hour a day -- is simple in theory, but much harder in practice. As every parent knows, simply saying "Find something else to do" never works. (When you said you were bored and your parents said, "Then go find something to do," how did that feel?)

The key is to not just say, but do. Offer more attractive alternatives. And don't just encourage other activities; actually get involved. Do things your kids like to do. Take them places they like to go. Help them learn a sport. Help them learn to play an instrument.

Make it easy for friends to visit, and for them to visit friends -- in real life, not virtually.

And don't just get involved in their lives; let them get involved in yours. Have your kids help you plan the next family vacation. Ask your kids to give you advice. Discuss a problem you're facing and ask how they would solve it. Few things are more flattering than being asked for advice. (That's true for kids as well as adults.) 

If nothing else, make every meal device-free -- and to make sure those dinners are engaging, put as much time into preparing to have interesting conversations as you do into preparing the food. 

Easy? Of course not. But worth it.

If you can help your kids be happier, isn't that worth whatever effort it takes?

Published on: Feb 19, 2018