Time to log off? Teens who spend too much time online have more suicidal thoughts

SEOUL, South Korea — Screen time may be on the rise among kids during the pandemic, but a recent study has found a concerning trend which will have parents screaming “time out!” Researchers in South Korea say teenagers who are constantly online are chronically stressed, sad, and thinking about suicide more often than their peers.

While Googling an answer for homework every now and then is not so bad, children who spend most of their time online display more emotional and physical problems, according to the study. Researchers surveyed 29,811 high school students on their general characteristics, internet use outside of school, and mental health.

Most students spent more than three hours a day online for reasons other than school. The team found higher internet usage among four specific groups:

  • Children in lower grade levels
  • Females
  • Students with low economic status
  • Children with low academic achievement

Less screen time leads to better health?

Students who did not spend most of their time online reported better health, lower stress levels, fewer feelings of sadness, and less suicidal ideation than groups with high internet usage.

“This study contributes to broadening our understanding of adolescent mental health by comparing adolescents’ mental health according to Internet usage time. It sheds light on the need for further attention and interventions to promote adolescents’ mental health according to the extent to which the Internet is used for non-academic purposes,” the authors write in the journal PLOS One.

While the findings do not explicitly show that using the internet causes thoughts of suicide, the researchers call for more mental health resources and campaigns available for children battling symptoms of depression or suicidal thoughts.

“The results suggest the need for interventions that increase the awareness of the risks for adolescents’ mental health and management of mental health for those adolescents who spend an excessive amount of time using the Internet,” the researchers write. “As a means to reduce feelings of sadness, suicidal ideation, and stress among adolescents, educational programs that teach appropriate Internet usage and duration of Internet use need to be developed and implemented.”

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About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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