Smartphones have become ubiquitous; they are everywhere. According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 96% of adults report owning a cellphone of some form, with 81% owning a smartphone (2019). When looking at the younger adult cohort (18-29), about 99% report owning a cellphone with 96% owning a smartphone, and the teens behind them are toting their smartphones in similar numbers. As a fun experiment, try finding a populated public area, like a mall, pause and look around at the number of people moving about looking at their phone; it will both amaze and startle you.
Now, smartphones weren’t always around. The first “smartphone” was produced in 1992 by IBM, but didn’t really become popularized until the introduction of the iPhone in 2007. The real tipping point, however, occurred in 2011-2012 when the majority of Americans reported owning a smartphone.
The point of owning a smartphone, of course, is not to be able to use the actual phone, but it’s to be able to use all the cool features. That means spending some time on the screen; a considerable amount of time on the screen it turns out. In fact, Common Sense Media published survey research in 2015 that reported finding that teens (13-18) spend an average of 9 hours on a screen per day (a caveat here…that includes TV time, as well as productivity uses of the screens in question, such as reading, doing research, etc.).
Let that sink in, the average teen…goes to school for 7.5 hours per day, gets 7 hours of sleep, spends 9 hours on a screen, and ends up with…30 minutes to do something else. Now, granted, teens use their screens while doing other things, such as eating, talking, walking, and driving (we all know this is true), but still, they seem to be sitting or lying somewhere pasted to their screens a large proportion of the time.
And that makes a lot of sense because the app designers for the popular social media platforms appear to be using behavioral techniques to maintain and increase the amount of time the user spends engaged in their particular app. That’s a whole other topic though for another day.
However, that much time on a screen, an average of 9 hours per day, can’t be good for a teen (or child or adult for that matter), can it? It turns out that there seem to be some issues associated with this overuse of screens. Over the next few weeks, we’ll try to bring some awareness to the most pressing concerns related to psychological well-being and all this screen time for teens.
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