The debate about whether excessive screen time leads to depression among adolescents is once again in the limelight after a teen recently went missing from his Sharjah home on being chided for watching YouTube videos late in the night. The problem is no longer as simple as taking the screen away from your kids and pushing them out of the house to 'go play'. The fact that children today need screens as an educational tool as much as they need them to communicate with their peers and to keep themselves entertained makes it harder if not downright impossible to wean them off the screen time.
Nevertheless, there is a growing body of evidence and research that suggests that, beyond a reasonable point, scrolling excessively through social media or spending time watching television aggravates and exaggerates the symptoms of depression. According to a study of 3,826 adolescents published in the journal Jama Pediatrics earlier this week, "high mean levels of social media [usage] over four years and any further increase in social media use in the same year were associated with increased depression". The same study also demonstrates, however, that not all screen time is bad. "Time spent playing video games shows no association with depression," researchers said.
While the study concluded that adolescents' social media and TV use should be regulated to prevent depression, there is a need for more such research - perhaps much more extensive - to establish a causal relationship and not just a correlation. Teenage was always a tricky time even without the complications thrown in by the digital age. Now, however, the impressionable teen brain has to cope with the multiple dimensions of comments and criticism on Snapchat and Instagram, the anxiety of being trolled on Twitter or dealing with the emotionally stunted messaging on Facebook. It is easier said than done, but parents will necessarily need to find that sweet spot of a balance to safeguard their kids from the evils of sleep deprivation and depression while encouraging them to adapt to the tools of new-age learning and engagement.