TORONTO, Ontario — It’s virtually impossible for the youth of today to totally avoid looking at screens, nor would the vast majority want to in the first place. However, troubling new research suggests preteens who soak up too much screen time may have a higher risk of suicidal behavior later on. Scientists from Canada and California report greater screen time among children between ages nine and 11 has an association with a greater risk of engaging in suicidal behaviors just two years later.
Adolescent and teenage mental health continues to be a prevalent modern problem, and many point to the role of various social media platforms in the worsening teen mental health crisis. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have even proposed a new bill that would ban all children under the age of 16 from using social media.
Now, this latest research indicates every extra hour of screen time displays a connection to a nine-percent higher risk of reporting suicidal behavior two years later. More specifically, each extra hour spent watching videos, playing video games, texting, or video chatting all appear to lead to a higher chance of suicidal behavior.
“Screen usage could lead to social isolation, cyberbullying, and sleep disruption, which could worsen mental health,” says senior study author, Jason Nagata, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California-San Francisco, in a media release. “More time on screens often displaces time for in person socializing, physical activity, and sleep.”
Screen time continues to rise since the pandemic
These findings add to modern science’s existing knowledge surrounding the youth mental health crisis. It’s hard to fathom, but suicide is currently the second leading cause of death among adolescents. This project used data collected by the nationwide Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study, the largest long-term study ever focusing on brain development in the United States. The ABCD study collected screen time data among 11,633 kids between ages nine and 11, and then tracked participants over the next two years. Adolescents also answered various questions pertaining to personal time spent on six different screen time platforms, as well as suicidal behaviors.
“The study was conducted mostly prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but its findings are especially relevant now since youth mental health worsened during the pandemic,” explains study co-author Kyle T. Ganson, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.
The researchers previously found that adolescent screen time doubled to nearly eight hours daily at the start of the pandemic in an earlier study.
“Screen time can have important benefits such as education and socialization, but parents should try to mitigate adverse mental health risks from excessive screen time. Parents should regularly talk to their children about screen usage and role model screen behaviors,” Prof. Nagata concludes.
The study is published in the journal Preventive Medicine.