Growing Up Social: Does Too Much Screen Time Have an Effect on Mental Health?

My daughter would stay in her room for hours and sometimes days at a time. I’d slip
food under the door and supply her with water to keep her hydrated. I’d poke my head in every so often to make sure she was still in there and offer a trip for ice cream. My daughter is an extreme introvert and a normal teenager!

But how do you know the difference between introverted, normal adolescent behavior and mental health problems that should not be ignored? While everyone faces mood changes and emotional highs and lows in life, the primary thing to look for that may signify a concern is that the person is crying for no apparent reason, multiple times a day, and for at least two weeks in a row. There is not only a loss of interest in participating in activities, but a profound loss of joy in really anything that formerly made the person feel good. Feelings of sadness are so overwhelming that even everyday tasks seem impossible and life looks hopeless.

Moodiness and irritability are normal signs of adolescence. Even lack of motivation and inspiration plagues us all from time to time. Sleeping for extremely long periods of time is necessary for healthy development and to recharge. Ask yourself, is there a reason for this irritability? Could it be lack of sleep, poor nutrition, too much homework, peer pressure, growth spurts, hormones raging? Who wouldn’t be cranky and want to isolate! But if there is no apparent reason for them to have a change in personality, or the response does not seem warranted in the situation and it’s persistent, then you need to look closer at what’s going on.

Loss of energy is a symptom of being overworked, overscheduled, and overwhelmed. Be very careful to not label this. A good night's rest or a weekend of sleep does the body and brain good. Change in appetite resulting in a change in weight is something to also keep an eye on.

Use of technology can definitely influence mental health. Recreational screen time - social media such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat - causes young people to compare themselves to their peers leading to negative self-judgements, cyberbullying, missing out on opportunities to spend time with friends and family, physical activity, and quality sleep. Take note of what is being watched on TV and online. The content of what they are watching and when they watch it may tell you something.

The most important take-away here is not to assign a label to the mood if  what is simply needed is to learn life and coping skills and take a break from screens. Medications treat symptoms and are not always the answer especially for young brains that are not fully developed until age 25. Counseling should look at and treat the cause.  Depressive, anxious, and hyperactive behaviors are in general, symptoms of something else. Talk to the young people in your life and find out what’s really going on. Sometimes they just need a place to be heard and validated.