Research points to a link between teen depression and excessive screen time

Is your teen suffering from ‘device depression’?

We all have witnessed them — teen mood swings. For the most part, they are a normal part of growing up. But it may be getting harder to tell what’s normal and what’s not. Recent research points to a link between teen depression and excessive screen time. Teens who spend five or more hours per day using smartphones, computers and other electronic devices have a much higher risk of developing depression.

Why? Spending time consumed by electronics is isolating. It takes us away from healthier activities like spending time with family and friends out in the world. It also can deprive teens of getting enough sleep. And then there’s social media, which can send unrealistic messages about body image, popularity, possessions — all taking a toll on self-esteem.

Signs of depression

• Sadness, irritability, anger
• Withdrawing from family and friends
• Sleeping or eating too much or too little
• Using drugs or alcohol
• Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and thoughts of suicide

Whether it’s typical teen moodiness or something more depends on severity. The more intense these symptoms seem, the more likely they are related to depression. And talking about suicide should always be taken seriously.

Get help

If you suspect your child may be struggling with depression, start by talking to your child’s pediatrician.

Need a pediatrician?

How long does it last?

Changes in behavior or mood that last longer than two weeks are likely depression.

How deep does it go?

If changes affect several domains of a teen’s life — school performance, family life and relationships with friends — it may be depression.

What parents can do

• Limit screen time by setting and enforcing rules (then sticking to them!), as well as by being a positive role model. Limit electronics use to no more than two hours per day for everyone in the family, including you. Don’t allow phones and TVs during dinner or at bedtime.

• Use a parental control mobile app, such as Net Nanny or Screen Time, to help manage your family’s screen time.

• Place devices in a common area, such as a designated basket, during dinner and at a certain time each day.

• Strengthen bonds and communication by eating meals together, spending time outdoors and talking openly about mental health with your teen.