Increased screen time linked to suicidal thoughts in teens, study finds

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A new study has linked prolonged screen time to suicidal ideation in teens.

Published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, the research revealed that among adolescent girls, significant time spent watching TV, playing video games or on social media that gradually increased was predictive of suicidal thoughts in the later teen years.

Video game use for teenage boys — particularly when cyberbullying was present — was also linked to feeling suicidal in young adulthood.

Lead study author Sarah Coyne, the associate director of the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University, studied the same group of teens over a 10-year period, starting at age 13. While she stressed that screen time is not the cause of of suicidal thoughts — “This is correlational, not causational,” Coyne told The Post — she also noted that it can lead to “some negative experiences” for young viewers and web users.

Excessive television watching, for instance, can block out other formative social experiences: “You’re probably spending less face-to-face time with people,” she said.

Meanwhile, burgeoning Instagram and TikTok junkies are vulnerable to feelings of jealousy, anxiety and the fear that they’re being left out. “Teenagers aren’t ready for everything they’re going to encounter on social media,” Coyne said.

“There’s no exact equation that says increased screen time equals suicide. However, withdrawing and not connecting with family and friends is one of the signs that someone could be suicidal.”

PJ Wenger, Family therapist and specialist at Rutgers University School of Mental Health

PJ Wenger, a family therapist and a specialist at the Rutgers University School of Mental Health, said that parents needn’t panic and confiscate their children’s screens just yet.

“There’s no exact equation that says increased screen time equals suicide,” Wenger told The Post. However, “withdrawing and not connecting with family and friends is one of the signs that someone could be suicidal.”

She said it’s reasonable for parents to impose boundaries, such as time limits, on screen time to stop it from becoming a problem. “If a child is spending all their time on the screen and you’re concerned about it, yes, you should limit screen time,” Wenger said.

Replacing virtual activities with offline fun is a great way to make sure teens stay grounded. Especially in a pandemic, “getting outside, taking walks, taking hikes,” as a family can make a difference, she said. “We know that connection is a really important piece to helping people not feel depressed.”

Coyne said that with her own kids, she limits their social media use to 20 to 30 minutes a day. She also encourages her 13-year-old daughter to think critically and be mindful about her time online.

“We say, ‘When you’re on TikTok, how does it make you feel? Who are you following?,’” she said. “If it ever feels like they’re bringing you down, or you feel bad about yourself, you need to think, ‘Maybe I need to take a break,’ or ‘Maybe I need to not follow this person.’”

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, you can get help 24/7 from the National Suicide Hotline, 800-273-8255.

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