Are smartphones destroying a generation?

Posted at 11:01 PM, Oct 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-23 23:01:17-04

Many of today's teens spend more than three hours on their phones during the day, and sleep for less than seven hours at night. That means they are looking at screens for nearly half the time they are resting their eyes at night.

These habits are taking a toll on teens' health. Teens have become increasingly more susceptible to depression symptoms and sleep depravation as the smartphone generation has grown in the past few years.

But what exactly are the cell phone habits that have become so detrimental to teens' health? We asked five Niagara University freshmen to tell us when they first pick up their phone in the morning, when they use it during the day, and when they finally put it down at night.

The overwhelming theme - "if my phone isn't in my hand, it's on my desk or within arm's reach."

All five students admitted to their phones keeping them up at night, and reaching for the device as soon as they wake up in the morning.

Scientists say teens should get nine hours of sleep every night. Seven to eight hours is good, but anything lower than that is considered being sleep deprived. Being on their phones until they fall asleep not only limits the hours of sleep teens get; exposure to the screen before falling asleep hurts their quality of rest as well.

Recent studies back how bad these habits have become. Teens who spend more than three hours a day on their phones are 28% more likely to be sleep deprived, and teens today are 57% more sleep deprived than they were in 1991. Between 2012 and 2015, the number of sleep deprived teens in the U.S. rose 22%.

Depression symptoms have also increased in teens, especially for girls, as smartphones have taken control of millennials' attention. From 2012 to 2015, the number of teen girls who showed depressive symptoms rose 50%. That number increased 21% among boys.  Also, 48% more girls and 27% more boys feel left out in 2015 than they did in 2010. 

This could have to do with how often teens socialize with their friends in front of screens as opposed to in person. From 2010 to 2015, the number of teens who get together with friends nearly every day dropped over 40%.

"I'm better with a screen in between," one Niagara University freshman said. "I feel like my greatest friendships are with those who I text all the time."

Smartphones are excellent tools, and make communication over multiple platforms easier than ever. However, abuse of these devices is hurting teens' health. But there are ways to immediately cut back on the health risks cell phones can pose.

The easiest is turning the ringer off and putting the phone out of arm's reach at night. Many teens use their phones as alarms in the morning, however alarms still work with the ringer switched off. By putting the phone out of arm's reach before turning out the lights at night, teens' quality of sleep improves dramatically, and they are not kept up because of what's going on on their phones.

Parents can also take steps to making their kids less relied on their phones. No phones at the dinner table is a good rule, and setting aside family time every night without the phones as distraction is a healthy practice as well.