Engaging in activities such as watching videos, playing video games, texting, and video chatting has been linked to an increased risk of suicidal behaviors.
A recent study revealed that children aged 9-11 who have more screen time are at a greater risk of developing suicidal tendencies two years later. This discovery comes amidst a worsening teen mental health crisis and the introduction of new legislation aiming to prohibit children below the age of 16 from accessing social media platforms.
The research, published in the journal Preventive Medicine, showed that an increased duration of screen time by an hour is linked to a 9% increase in the possibility of self-reporting suicidal tendencies two years later. Furthermore, the study indicated that each additional hour spent watching videos, playing video games, texting, and video chatting resulted in a higher risk of suicidal behavior.
“Screen usage could lead to social isolation, cyberbullying, and sleep disruption, which could worsen mental health,” said senior author, Jason Nagata, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. “More time on screens often displaces time for in-person socializing, physical activity, and sleep.”
The study builds upon the existing knowledge surrounding the youth mental health crisis. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents. The study extracts data from the nationwide Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study, the largest long-term study of brain development in the United States. The study collected screen time data for 11,633 children 9-11 years who were followed for two years. The children answered questions about their time spent on six different screen time modalities as well as suicidal behaviors.
“The study was conducted mostly prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but its findings are especially relevant now since youth mental health worsened during the pandemic,” noted co-author Kyle T. Ganson, Ph.D., assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work. The researchers previously found that adolescent screen time doubled to nearly eight hours daily at the start of the pandemic in a study published in JAMA Pediatrics.
“Screen time can have important benefits such as education and socialization, but parents should try to mitigate adverse mental health risks from excessive screen time. Parents should regularly talk to their children about screen usage and role model screen behaviors,” said Nagata.
References: “Screen time and suicidal behaviors among U.S. children 9–11 years old: A prospective cohort study” by Jonathan Chu, Kyle T. Ganson, Fiona C. Baker, Alexander Testa, Dylan B. Jackson, Stuart B. Murray and Jason M. Nagata, 17 February 2023, Preventive Medicine.
“Screen Time Use Among US Adolescents During the COVID-19 Pandemic – Findings From the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study” by Jason M. Nagata, Catherine A. Cortez, Chloe J. Cattle, Kyle T. Ganson, Puja Iyer, Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo and Fiona C. Baker, 1 November 2021, JAMA Pediatrics.