The Secret To Teenage Happiness

Stop looking everyone, I’ve found it. No really, I have.

The secret of teenage happiness has been found. I’d like to take credit for this but it’s actually researchers at San Diego State University.

Jean Twenge, Gabrielle Martin and Keith Campbell (2018) found that adolescents who spent less than an hour a day using digital media were the happiest. Their research analysed 1 million U.S. teenagers and looked at how they were spending their recreational time and which activities correlated with happiness, and which didn’t.

We found that teens who spent more time seeing their friends in person, exercising, playing sports, attending religious services, reading, or even doing homework were happier. However, teens who spent more time on the internet, playing computer games, on social media, texting, using video chat or watching TV were less happy. In other words, every activity that didn’t involve a screen was linked to more happiness, and every activity that involved a screen was linked to less happiness.

This might not be shocking news and confirm what we all suspect to be the case anyway: those that spend a disproportionate amount of time glued to their screens are much less content than those who unplug and engage in face-to-face social interactions.

iGens spend less time with their friends in person so are unhappier, more anxious, lonelier and completely unprepared for adulthood.

Basically, after the golden hour, an increase in screen pushes unhappiness levels up steadily. As the authors say, “If you wanted to give advice based on this research, it would be very simple: Put down your phone or tablet and go do something – just about anything – else.”

Limiting screen time is important for anyone as social contact can boost life satisfaction and happiness levels but teenagers can easily become addicted. The main culprit? You guessed it – the smartphone and especially the use of social media.

Take a break

Children and young people live in a world of ‘Likes’ which is damaging to their self-esteem, self-confidence and whole sense of self. One study from Denmark found that social media use affects our wellbeing negatively. Tromholt Morten of the Department of Sociology at the University of Copenhagen conducted an experiment with 1,095 participants and found that taking a break from Facebook for 7 days led to increased life satisfaction and more positive emotions.

In another study by Shakya and Christakis (2017), face-to-face social interactions were shown to enhance well-being compared to online interactions.

Students therefore need to seriously limit the time they spend on social media and take regular technological breaks and ‘tech detoxes’.

But social media use can also be linked to happiness, positive moods and happy emotions. The Children’s Commissioner report Life in ‘likes’ found children knew how to cheer themselves up or calm themselves down using social media,

Older children had developed a more sophisticated understanding of the different social media apps, and thought more about which apps to use and when to use them.

The report found that older children used social media for emotional support from their online friends and it was a space to be themselves, be creative, have a laugh and  and cement friendships.

Another encouraging finding from the Life in Likes report was that younger brothers and sisters were learning from their older siblings what not to do,

Some children felt concerned that social media could lead to ‘addiction’, where they had witnessed this behaviour in older siblings at secondary school. As a result, they were aware of how not to use social media themselves.

Less positively, some secondary pupils found that social media was a huge distraction, time consuming and stressful to manage especially if they were on different platforms and receiving multiple messages and notifications.

The good news

Excessive screen time is damaging but not everyone agrees that screen time is all bad. Sara DeWitt argues that that screen time can actually be beneficial and that they don;t make children passive, they don’t distract from education and they lead to less time spent with parents.  Hear what she has to say in the following TED video:

Screen time has been demonised but there is every good reason to suggest that with a balanced approach and time limits, screen time can play a very positive part in all our lives.

The research by Twenge et al tells us that to completely reject and bail out of screen time isn’t the answer but to do everything in moderation. Twenge says,

Somewhat surprisingly, we found that teens who didn’t use digital media at all were actually a little less happy than those who used digital media a little bit (less than an hour a day).

Tweens and teens get a bad press for being difficult and grumpy which is unfair when so-called ‘adults’ aren’t exactly role models of happiness. Screen addiction is not exclusively a teenage problem.

The Life in ‘likes’ report recommends that parents should support their children to take part in other activities away from a screen.

The Commissioner’s Digital 5 A Day campaign, based on the NHS’s 5 Steps to better mental wellbeing, supports this and provides parents with practical steps to achieve a healthy and
balanced digital ‘diet’.

YouTuber and Broadcaster SimplyLuke has been helping to spread the message.

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