What’s dirtier than a toilet seat and causing teens problems with their vision and hearing, plus contributing to depression? Would you believe devices like smartphones, laptops, and tablets? It’s true.

Teens spend on average 9.3 hours on their digital devices each day. That’s more than the time they spend sleeping or in school. And it’s causing new physical and mental health issues including screen addiction. Teen screen addiction is even interrupting sleep patterns. A new study found digital devices can disturb sleep worse than caffeine! While technology helps teens communicate, their screen time causes smartphone addictions, weight gain, sleep deprivation, eye damage, and other issues that can plague teens throughout their lives.

Teens on Screens: How it Impacts Their Health

Teens may be setting themselves up for a lifetime of physical, mental, and emotional issues, all through excessive screen time. Devices like computers, smartphones, tablets, and other devices, are consuming 9.3 hours of each day, time that could be spent sleeping, exercising, or studying. Their devices are veritable petri dishes as well. Many tests found devices such as smartphones, tablets, and video game controllers are dirtier than toilet seats. Overuse and misuse are causing hearing and vision damage as well as depression and musculoskeletal issues such as Occipital Neuralgia, Text Neck, iPosture, and text claw. Improper posture while texting may add up to 60 pounds of pressure to the spine, equal to the weight one would experience carrying an 8 year old around their neck. When a developing body is subjected to this for extended periods of time each day, physical, mental, and emotional issues are likely to develop and continue into the future.

Teen Screen Addiction Leads to Physical Health Problems

Teens that constantly check phones and don’t use proper posture while using digital devices may develop Occipital Neuralgia. This is a condition in which the occipital nerves, which run from the top of the spinal cord up over the scalp, are inflamed or injured. Occipital Neuralgia indicators include:

  • Aching, burning, and throbbing pain starting at the base of the head and moving to the scalp
  • Pain on one or both sides of the head
  • Pain behind the eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Tender scalp
  • Pain when moving neck

Repeatedly checking a smartphone or tablet screen creates neck tension and tightens neck muscles, resulting in “iPosture” or “Text Neck.” Both of these newly defined conditions describe the pain and damage sustained from constantly lowering the head to view screens.

Improper posture while texting can add up to 60 pounds of pressure to the spine, equal to carrying an 8 year old around your neck

Screen Addiction Increases Mental Health Issues

1.      Depression

At least 70% of teens will have more than one episode of depression before adulthood, and digital devices may be a big reason. Dopamine, a brain chemical known to elevate moods, is released when teens receive social media notifications or text messages. On the reverse side, dopamine is not released if they aren’t getting notifications, causing teens to become depressed. Scientists discovered teens that spend excessive time online had less dopamine receptors in their brains.

Reduced dopamine levels from a lack of digital engagement may cause:

  • Internet addictions
  • Problems at school
  • Running away
  • Violence
  • Suicidal tendencies

2.      Nomophobia

60% of teens admit they’re addicted to their smartphones. The addiction has given rise to a new medical term: Nomophobia. Nomophobia originated because of the high rates of fear and anxiety teens experienced without their device.

3.      Phantom Vibrations

Another 90% of teen smartphone users experience “Phantom Vibration Syndrome” where they mistakenly think their mobile phone is vibrating in their pocket. Dr. Robert Rosenberger credits this to teens habitually expecting alert notifications. “We are just so anxious these days, because our different technologies constantly have us on the edge.”

Teens on Screens Suffering Computer Vision Syndrome in Greater Numbers

Recent studies indicate Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) affects as many as 75% of teen computer users.

Computer Vision Syndrome encompasses an array of eye strain issues and pain including:

  • Eye Strain
  • Blurred Vision
  • Double Vision
  • Dizziness
  • Dry, Red Eyes
  • Eye Irritation
  • Headaches

Constantly viewing a screen decreases the blink rate by 33%, creating a higher evaporation rate, and ultimately dryer eyes. Dry eyes may cause permanent damage if left untreated.

Higher Rates of Screen Sightedness Appearing

Since the launch of smartphones in 1997, short sightedness cases have increased 35%. Another new term, screen sightedness, describes short sightedness caused by excessive screen time. Screen sightedness rates are expected to grow 50% over the next 10 years. The problem appears most when young people hold screens close to their faces. Screen sightedness symptoms are:

  • Headache
  • Brow ache
  • Eye pain
  • Eye redness
  • Eye irritation
  • Dry eyes

Did You Say Hearing Damage?

46% of teens experience common signs of hearing loss such as ringing, roaring, pain, or buzzing in their ears. The cause? Dr. Sreekant Cherukuri, ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) Specialist provides insight:

“Probably the largest cause of hearing damage is millennials using earbuds with their iPods and smartphones.”

Teens are playing their music so loud so often that they’re damaging their hearing. Hearing loss can occur in as little as 8 minutes. Hearing loss occurs when:

  • Volume is over 60%
  • Audio consumption is over 60 minutes per day

Excessive Screen Time Causing Weight Gain

Adolescent obesity has quadrupled over the past 30 years. 1 in 3 teens are now defined as overweight or obese and screen time may be contributing. A 2014 CDC report found 80% of obese teens aged 12-15 spend more than 2 hours a day in front of screens. The CDC also found:

  • The average teen is physically active only 39.4 minutes per day       Click to Tweet! 
  • Fewer than 1 in 10 teens get the CDC’s recommended minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity per day

With around 7 hours for sleep, 7 hours in school, and 9.3 hours in front of a screen, not much time is left for physical activity.

Screen Addiction Causing Sleep Deprivation

87% of United States high school students get far less than the recommended 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night. But they still get 9.3 hours of digital screen time. Time devoted to sleeping often turns into time spent checking a phone:

A 2015 Science Magazine study found the amount of caffeine in a double espresso has less effect on a teens sleep schedule than bright light exposure from a digital device.

Pay Attention!

Since 2000, the average American teen’s attention span has decreased from 12 seconds to less than 8. That’s shorter than the attention span of a goldfish! The short attention span is negatively impacting homework time. One study found that teens couldn’t concentrate on their homework for more than 2 minutes without being distracted by digital devices.

Screen Time Causes Nerve Damage

Repetitive finger motion like texting or scrolling digital screens can cause Text Claw—cramping or sore muscles in the fingers, wrist, or forearm.

Prolonged bending of the elbow too tightly can damage arm nerves by squeezing off the blood supply to those nerves which control the smallest two fingers. This condition is called Cell Phone Elbow, causing tingling and numbness in the ring and pinky fingers.

Distracted Walking Can Turn Deadly

33% of parents and teens agreed that personal digital devices such as smartphones, tablets, or computers caused daily family conflicts about too much screen time. Constant digital consumption can divide families through:

  • Less and less undistracted family time
  • Indifference to the physical world and people in it
  • Need for approval by online strangers
  • Dependence on virtual world
  • Prioritization of impersonal communication

The digital world is consuming teens, leading to unhealthy obsessions that affect family relationships.

Screens Expose Teens to More Germs Than… Toilet Seats?

Many digital devices your teen uses harbor more germs and bacteria than toilet seats.

On average, smartphones and tablets contain 10 to 12 kinds of bacterial and fungal species. Toilet seats only have three kinds of germs. Teens use smartphones and tablets every day, exposing themselves to a veritable petri dish of germs.

What Parents Can Do About Screen Addiction

Parents can implement household rules to prevent excessive screen time:

1. Set Usage Limits – Set the times and places teens may use devices to ensure they aren’t overusing or addicted.

2. Keep Devices in Public Places – Keeping devices in public areas prevents teens from using devices when they shouldn’t.

3. Homework is a Digital Device-Free Zone Unless Needed – Limiting use of computers or tablets during homework time may be difficult especially when writing papers or doing research. You can set restrictions on other digital device however. Make sure the device is for homework only.

4. Teach the 20/20/20 Rule – If your teen must use a digital device for an extended period, teach them the 20/20/20 rule. Give eyes a break from screens every 20 minutes by viewing something 20 feet away for a minimum of 20 seconds.

5. Encourage Teens to Go Outside – Encourage teens to go for a walk or play a game outside, WITHOUT their phone. Go on family walks or organize outdoor family activities.

6. Steer Your Kids Toward Forms of Media That Actively Engage Them – Screen time doesn’t have to be negative. A variety of sites provide positive stimulation and interaction.

7. Lead By Example – Show teens it’s possible to have fun without technology. Play board games, hold thoughtful conversations, or take family vacations where devices are only used when necessary.

Screen time has its plus sides until it becomes obsessive. Digital media helps teens stay up to date with friends or family. But screen addiction creates physical and mental health issues. Monitor teens screen time and how they use digital devices. Parental supervision helps teens avoid the same fate as the 60% who admit they’re addicted to their smartphones.