You might think that teenagers are glued to their screens because they are addicted to their phones. But a new study suggests that something else might be going on: They could be trying to fill a void caused by a lack of face-to-face interactions.
The study, published in the Journal of Adolescence, found that teenagers who reported feeling disconnected from others were more likely to spend more time on their phones and social media. And while it might seem like they are using their devices to avoid human interaction, the study found that they were actually using them in an attempt to feel more connected.
“Teens are not addicted to their screens, they are disconnected from the people around them,” said lead author Yalda Uhls, a senior researcher at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. “When we feel disconnected, we seek out ways to feel connected, and for many teens, their phones and social media are where they find that connection.”
The study surveyed more than 1,000 13- to 18-year-olds in the Los Angeles area. The teens were asked about their phone and social media use, as well as their experiences with face-to-face interactions.
The findings showed that the teens who felt the most disconnected were also the ones who spent the most time on their phones and social media. For example, they were more likely to spend more than three hours on their phones on a typical day, and they were more likely to check social media sites more than 30 times per day.
While it’s possible that some of the teens in the study were using their phones and social media to avoid face-to-face interactions, the study found that most of them were using these devices to try to connect with others. For example, they were more likely to use social media to connect with friends, and they were more likely to use their phones to call or text their friends.
“Teens are not rejecting real-life interactions, they are looking for ways to connect with other people,” Uhls said. “When we feel disconnected, we seek out ways to feel connected, and for many teens, their phones and social media are where they find that connection.”
So, if you’re worried about your teenager’s screen time, you might want to consider whether they are feeling disconnected from the people around them. And if they are, you can help them find ways to connect with others in real life.
When it comes to teenagers and their relationship with screens, it’s easy to point the finger and say that they’re spending too much time looking at them. But new research suggests that it’s not the screen time itself that’s the problem – it’s the disconnection that comes with it.
The study, published in the journal Developmental Psychology, found that it’s not how much time teens spend on screens that’s linked to negative outcomes like loneliness and depression. Instead, it’s the way they use them – and whether or not they feel like they can disconnect from them.
Teens who felt like they could disconnect from their screens when they wanted to were no more likely to suffer from the negative outcomes than those who didn’t use screens at all. It’s only when teens felt like they couldn’t disconnect – when they felt compulsively drawn to their devices – that the problems started to arise.
“There is a common perception that time spent on screens is always bad, especially for teenagers,” said study author Dr. Candice Odgers. “But our research shows that it’s not how much time spent on screens that matters, it’s how that time is used. When teenagers use screens compulsively, it’s associated with poorer mental health.”
This research suggests that it’s not screen time itself that’s the problem, but the way it’s used. If teens feel like they can disconnect from their screens when they want to, then they’re no more likely to suffer from negative outcomes than those who don’t use screens at all. But if they feel like they can’t disconnect, that’s when the problems start to arise.