Vaping and underage drinking garner a lot of attention among parents, educators and nonprofit groups concerned about the consequences of teenagers’ risky behaviors.
Less talked about is the destructive impact of smartphones and other electronic devices on teens’ lives.
A new survey of Rock County high-schoolers highlights some disturbing trends among these screen gazers, such as 59% of 12th-graders reported using their devices between midnight and 5 a.m. on school nights.
What might these teens be doing during the wee hours of the morning? Twenty-four percent of 12th-graders reported sexting, either sending or receiving sexually explicit images, in the past 30 days. A smaller portion, 16% of 12th-graders, reported being targeted by online bullying in the past year.
Being up half the night, it’s no surprise 43% of 12th-graders reported spending at least three hours each day on their devices. Many of them also engage in texting while driving, with 60% of 12th-graders admitting to this dangerous practice in the past 30 days.
Perhaps it’s time parents, educators and nonprofit groups become more proactive in highlighting the risks associated with excessive device use. Sexting at 3 a.m. and driving while texting are symptoms of a breakdown in self-control. Excessive device use should be viewed as a problem like overeating, smoking or illicit drug use.
Addiction is probably the right word to describe many teens’ relationships with their phones. According to the survey, only 18% of 12th-graders reported getting eight hours of sleep each night, while 22% reported getting five or fewer hours of sleep each night.
Too many students are coming to school woefully prepared to learn, and the survey makes late-night screen time a primary culprit.
The survey didn’t suggest any connection between students’ mental health and their technology use, but we’d be curious to know whether the students who reported mental health problems also were on their phones at 2 a.m. and functioning on less than five hours of sleep. It’s likely no coincidence that 50% of Rock County high-schoolers reported having “significant problems” with anxiety and 32% with depression over the past 12 months. It’s amazing how gloomy the world can feel when you’re sleep deprived.
Parents, nonprofit groups and educators alike have sounded the alarms on traditional risky behaviors related to tobacco and underage drinking. They’ve even warned about the dangers of sexting and texting while driving. But they should put a greater focus on the mental and physical problems linked to excessive device use in general.
Many teenagers can’t put down their devices. They need guidance, and the adults in their lives are the only ones who can provide it.