Less happy, lower life satisfaction, and weaker self-esteem are among the effects of climbing smartphone ownership among teenagers in North America. As approximately 73 percent of teenagers in the United States own smartphones – a percentage that continues to climb with each passing year – this is something that is in need of address.
A recent study published by a team of psychologists at the University of Georgia and San Diego State University suggests that the declines in happiness and self-esteem recorded in American teenagers is directly linked to smartphone ownership. The study tracked a series of data sets based on 1.1 million teenagers, demonstrating a rise in unhappiness and low self-esteem since 2012. What is interesting about this study is that for the entire decade prior to 2012, teens were actually getting happier and seeing higher self-esteem. Something in the period surrounding 2012 appears to have changed that, with a significant shift in level of happiness noted.
It’s no big secret that the world has embraced technology with open arms. By 2012, the smartphone revolution was in full force with 37 percent of teens owning one. By 2016, as stated, that number climbed to 73 percent. Throughout this time period, there have been multiple studies produced showing the negative effects of prolonged smartphone use, such as the conclusion that the longer a user spends engaged in online content and social media, the unhappier the teenager. The studies published have not all been negative either, with some showing how participating in social media can have a positive effect on a teen’s self-image.
What studies like these show is that smartphones are not inherently a bad thing, when used in moderation. The line where positive use turns to negative is unclear, which is where the issue lay. What is evident is that adolescents and teens who tend to spend more time engaged in social media, texting, electronic games, and the internet tend to be unhappier. Though one can have debates on the merits of these statements, across multiple studies, it is difficult to argue with a conclusion that the vast majority have come to.
The ultimate division seems to come down to screen time. Teens who tend to spend more time on non-screen activities report higher psychological ratings, and higher happiness and satisfaction than their screen-dedicated counterparts. Activities such as spending time with others in-person, exercising, and engaging in sport rate higher in happiness than screen-based activities, such as social media. As smartphones have come to present a screen experience one can have in their own pockets, for any teen who owns one, there is no real escape. Even if one is not directly engaged with a screen, it’s only a matter of time before they are.
In the long-term, it’s understandable for parents and society to worry. More screens are being released to the public every day, smartphone ownership is still on the rise, and many non-screen processes are gradually being transferred to online spaces. The infrastructure we are creating for each other is one where, according to the data, we can expect increasingly unhappier, less satisfied people.
In the years to come, there needs to be a serious discussion on the consequences of prolonged screen time and the mental health issues they have been known to perpetuate.