While some parents are quick to write off video game, social media, and/or internet abuse as a behavior typical of many of today’s teens, it is important to make sure that screen time for teens is limited and under control. Excessive video game and internet abuse or use can lead to some rather alarming physical and mental health risks.
Physical Health Risks
While many parents worry about the impact that excessive screen time for teens has on mental health, some don’t realize that it can cause a variety of physical health problems as well. For example, excessive video game use and/or video game addiction has been shown to increase blood pressure and heart rate. This can wreak havoc the body’s autonomic nervous system, resulting in stress-related chemical release. Other potential health risks associated with chronic, internet or video game addiction, overuse, and abuse are:
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Because of the repetitive movements associated with gaming, texting, and typing, internet and video game addiction and overuse put teens at risk for developing Carpal Tunnel later in life.
Aggressive Behavior: Although there has been some debate for years, the American Psychological Association Review recently confirmed the link between violent video games and an increased likelihood for aggressive behavior.
Risky Behavior: Recent research from Dartmouth shows that teens who play mature-rated “risk-glorifying games” (i.e. Grand Theft Auto) are more likely to engage in a wide range of behaviors- not just aggression, such as:
- alcohol use
- risky sex
- reckless driving
Disrupted Sleep Patterns/Poor Sleep Hygiene: The cumulative amount of screen time a teen gets throughout the day — not just before bedtime — affects how long teens sleep. Sleep deprivation can cause the following effects:
- Impairment of attention, concentration, reasoning, and problem solving
- An increase in depression symptoms
- A tendency to be more impulsive and inattentive
- Weight gain
- High blood pressure
Mental Health Risks
While many parents are simply concerned with the isolation and antisocial behaviors associated with too much screen time, there are much more detrimental mental health health risks associated with excessive screen time for teens.
Grey and White Brain Matter: Excessive screen time for teens impacts grey and white matter under brain scans. While this means very little to most people, problematic electronics use affects the grey matter in parts of the brain responsible for governing executive functions (planning, prioritizing, organizing, and impulse control.) White matter is responsible for connecting the brain to the body and connecting the two hemispheres.
Impaired Cognitive Functioning: Research reveals that excessive electronics use has been shown to reduce impulse inhibition and slow down the processing of information.
Affects Dopamine Levels: Dopamine is associated with reward processing and addiction. Since dopamine levels have been shown to increase during video game sessions, the urge or “craving” for gaming becomes reinforced.
Anxiety and Depression: While internet abuse or overuse and, in particular, social media use has not been shown to cause depression and anxiety, it creates the opportunity for emotional distress due to cyberbullying. Cyberbullying can impact self esteem, and has been shown to cause higher levels of anxiety and depression than “offline” bullying.