MENTAL HEALTH

Small screens impacting the mental health of kids says study

Mar 26, 2024, 7:39 AM

Small screens...

FILE.- In this Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019, photo an iPhone displays the apps for Facebook and Messenger in New Orleans. One the face of it, a short-term outage that made certain social media platforms temporarily unavailable would seem to not be worth more than a shrug or passing interest. But the widespread attention given to the blanking of Meta’s Facebook, Instagram, Threads and Messenger platforms on Tuesday shows that it does matter. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)

(AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — A new report attributes the increased use of small screens to the increase in depression, suicidal ideation and anxiety in teens and kids. However, Child Psychologist Kristin Francis with the Huntsman Mental Health Institute said those small screens are only one factor.

“We never know for sure and it’s not ever just one variable that is making something happen. However, we know that social media impacts kids two different ways. Number one by the content, which they’re exploring in correlation with their developmental age. So, where their brain is at maturation wise,” she said. “And number two, what they’re doing instead of spending time with friends or sleeping or engaging in sports.”

According to Dr. Francis, the time spent online takes the place of things that kids should be doing developmentally.

“So, it’s really important for us to look at, what is the young person doing instead of social media? Just cutting it out in itself isn’t fully helpful as much as also replacing it with some good behaviors.”

Dr. Francis said the problem with small screens is that while they’re engaging in these behaviors, kids aren’t learning what they really need to.

“Kids’ main job is to learn how to be you know, how to be in the world like how to grow and how to develop skills… We learn a lot from interaction. The way that kids learn at school isn’t so much always in the classroom as much as on the playground with each other…” 

Being ok with boredom

Additionally, Francis said it’s a good idea to let your kids be bored once and while.

“Part of just kind of being a person on the planet is how to tolerate being bored or not having fun all the time, and that can lead to a lot of creativity and imagination.”

Dr. Francis said boredom helps kids appreciate the times when they do have something going on.

Ditching the small screen

In addition to letting them be bored occasionally, Dr. Francis said parents should be inviting their kids’ friends over, having them drop their cell phones in a basket.  Then encourage kids to play board games, foosball, ping pong, Nerf dart wars, or any of the other games they might “make-up.” 

Dr. Francis said it’s important for parents not to be frightened by studies like these, because children are resilient.

“I think sometimes articles come out and they instill a lot of fear in us as parents. And I just want people to know, like to take a deep breath. And so, talk to your kids about their social media use, their screen use in general, try to motivate them with incentives of rewards how to change their behavior and then really modeling it for them.”

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Small screens impacting the mental health of kids says study