Screen time for teens: Overview

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Find out what screen time is, how much time you should be spending online and how too much screen time can impact your mental health.

What is screen time?

You have probably heard the term 'screen time' a lot. It’s the amount of time you spend using a device that has a screen, for instance watching television, browsing online, using a cell phone or playing video games.

Screen time is an important and unavoidable part of your life. It lets you relax and connect with friends and family and lets you access unlimited information in an instant.

The downside, though, is that you can easily experience an overload of information and forget about other fun and healthy activities. Social media and technology eliminate the need to call a friend or meet up with someone in person. And staring passively at a screen limits the need to use your imagination, something that’s important to help you generate ideas and solve problems in your everyday life.


How much time to spend online

The Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) and the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) recommend that teens up to age 17 spend a maximum of two hours a day of recreational screen time (any screen time that doesn’t involve homework or other tasks).

To work out your daily recreational screen time, add up how much time you spend looking at a screen for fun from when you wake up until you go to bed. Here are some common activities to consider:

  • watching videos, streamed TV shows or movies
  • instant messaging, using social media sites and apps
  • downloading, organizing and playing music files
  • playing online games
  • browsing or editing photos
  • using a cell phone or smart watch
  • reading and writing text messages
  • listening to podcasts

If you’re getting a lot more than two hours of recreational screen time a day, it could have a negative effect on your mental health.

How too much screen time affects mental health

Screen time becomes unhealthy when you’re looking at a screen for much of the day. If this sounds familiar, you may notice that you feel:

  • lonely
  • sad
  • overly tired
  • stressed or fearful
  • isolated from friends or family
  • withdrawn
  • nervous
  • agitated or tense
  • aggressive or angry

You may also experience mood swings and have trouble making and keeping friends.

Too much screen time also takes time away from physical activity and can reduce your concentration and interest in school. At night, the blue light from screens makes it harder for you to fall and stay asleep. This also affects your energy and mood at school or with your friends and family.

Spending too much time on social media in particular can give you a distorted sense of your friends and the people you follow online. Watching someone’s highlight reel while you deal with the ups and downs of your life can lead to unhealthy comparisons and make you feel inadequate.

Of course, some of these issues could be caused by something other than too much screen time. Talk to your parents or another trusted adult if you have any concerns about your wellbeing.

Last updated: March 22nd 2019