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What Country Has the Most Tech Addicted Teens?

About half of teenagers and parents in Mexico say they believe they are addicted to their cellphones -- the highest of any nation surveyed by Common Sense Media. In the US, 39% of teenagers report feeling addicted to their mobile devices, which happens to be fewer than both the United Kingdom and Japan.

The Debate Over How Screen Time Affects Teens

National Public Radio reports that researchers appear divided over the effect of screen time and social media on teens' -- particularly girls' -- mental health. Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, says social media in particular may be causing anxiety among teens, however others say that her data is skewed. Critics state smartphone use is almost ubiquitous among teenagers today, while only a small minority report mental health problems, so simply knowing that a teenager uses a smartphone (even for many hours a day) cannot reliably predict that the teenager will become depressed. Factors such as genetics or the presence of childhood trauma can serve as much larger predictors.

So why should the average parent worry about this scientific controversy? Because, one critic says, when parents simply demonize phones, "there's less of a communications channel" about what teens are encountering online. A parent's opportunity to mentor or support positive uses of media is replaced by "confrontation on a day-to-day basis." Well-meaning parents, wrongly believing the phone to be as risky as a cigarette or a beer, may actually be making their children's lives harder by fighting with them about it.

Teacher Finds Students Focus Without Phones

Frustrated that smartphones were competing for students' attention in the classroom, Nevada Spanish teacher Debbie Simon started asking students to lock their phones in a magnetically sealed pouch before class began. Despite some initial backlash, Simon says in an interview in the The Epoch Times, after just a few days the students said that they felt more focused and engaged in lessons. This solution has been implemented by many schools and even concert venues. What will your school’s policy on cellphones be this coming school year?

Research Says Too Much Social Media a Teen Depression Risk

Canadian researchers reported recently in JAMA Pediatrics that teens with higher-than-normal social media and TV use have increased odds of developing depression symptoms, with increased social media and TV screen time tied to greater symptom severity. According to the study co-author Elroy Boers, "Social media and television are forms of media that frequently expose adolescents to images of others operating in more prosperous situations, such as other adolescents with perfect bodies and a more exciting or rich lifestyle." However, the findings, based on data involving nearly 4,000 Canadian youths followed from ages 12 to 16, showed that higher video-game and computer-use levels didn't affect depression symptoms.

Screen Time Breakdown

Curious about how much time you or your children are spending looking at a phone screen every day? Worried about digital addiction? Google and Apple have tools that can help you manage your screen time on their devices. You can use these features to see how much time you're actually spending on your mobile device and which applications you use most often.

Apple's "Screen Time" feature on its iPhones can be found under "Settings." It breaks down in simple charts how long you spent on your phone that day or over the past week, and tells you which types of apps sucked up most of your time.

Google has built a native "Digital Wellbeing" app into its Pixel phones that provides similar data. It also includes an option to set limitations on usage. For other Android devices, there are a number of apps in the Google Play store that users can download to monitor their mobile device usage.

Is All the Uproar Over Screen Time for Naught?

The effects of digital screen time on children's well being and development is a source of huge debate at the moment. While concerns over the effects of these new devices on childhood development are not unwarranted, scientists have not been able to reach a clear consensus on the topic. Now a new study by the University of Oxford, examining data from over 350,000 subjects in the UK and US, finds digital technology use accounts for less than half a percent of a young person's negative mental health. The research suggests everything from wearing glasses to not getting enough sleep have bigger negative effects on adolescent well being than digital screen use. Binge-drinking and marijuana use also were noted as having significantly larger negative effects, and bullying was found to have four times larger the negative effect on well being than digital screen use. On the positive end of the spectrum, things like eating a good breakfast and getting enough sleep were much more statistically relevant in affecting well being than the effects of technology use.

Standing Up to Screens – What’s a Parent To Do

Richard Bromfield , a professor at the Harvard Medical School, begins his book called Standing Up to Screens: A Doable Plan for Parents United, with a telling quote from James Baldwin: “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” Bromfield notes parents use their own screens nine hours or more a day, more than most children or teens. Half talk on their phones while driving with their young children. A third text, and about 16 percent check their social media. "Yet despite these facts, 78 percent of parents judge themselves to be ‘good media role models’ for their children’s use of screens," he writes in a chapter titled "Fess Up." Bromfield is not prescribing a ban on devices, but his book describes a simple and novel strategy for parents to help their children learn to manage their screens.

The Risks of Technology Need More Consideration

Marty Ringle of Reed College in Oregon, who has worked in educational technology for more than 40 years, says there should be more consideration by the public, especially parents, of the risks of technology. In this interview with EdSurge, he suggests that an ethics course focused on technology be required in schools and colleges and the materials available for parents to use. Ringle writes, “There are people today who are well respected, well known, who are expressing anxiety and concerns about this. I personally think those are very well placed concerns. Not just in terms of the immediate obvious concerns about privacy and tracking and profiling people to within an inch of their lives and all those sorts of things, but decision-making, understanding the strengths and weaknesses, the limits of technology, not just today, but tomorrow, I think is vital.”

Study Looks at the Effects of Screen Time On Kid’s Brains

A recent segment of 6o Minutes covered the effects of screen time on kids and reported that children ages 9 and 10 who spent at least seven hours on screens per day actually had thinning of the part of the brain that controls sensory processing. The segment references an ongoing study from the National Institutes of Health, that also finds that those who had more than two hours of daily screen time had lower language and thinking test scores. The study is following over 11,000 children for 10 years to see how prolonged screen time affects the brain. The scientists and doctors working on the study said that no conclusions could be drawn at this point, but noted there are definite changes in brain structure and activity.

What Happens When Eighth Graders Give Up Technology for Two Weeks?

As reported in the San Mateo Daily Journal, eighth-graders at a California school say they have experienced positive results after accepting a 12-day challenge to give up time on social media and digitial devices. The tech-free challenge came after a school survey found 63% of students said they spent too much time on social media and cellphones. Two big revelations students had were how much more time they had for everything and how much more connected they felt to other people. Some also said that their parents had more trouble with the challenge than they did because parents forgot they could not call them.

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