Three Reasons Why…You Should Ask Kids About Their Screen Time Habits

Hansa Bhargava, MD


August 31, 2017

Hello. I'm Dr Hansa Bhargava, a pediatrician and a medical editor for Medscape and WebMD.

The Internet and social media have made our world smaller and more connected. But that is not necessarily a good thing when it comes to your pediatric patients who may let social media influence their decisions.

Statistics show that over 90% of teens say they are online daily; 24% admit that their online interactions are virtually constant.[1]

There are at least three important reasons why you should keep an eye on your patients' screen time behavior.

Reason #1: 13 Reasons Why

One of those three reasons why is, well, 13 Reasons Why, a Netflix television series that graphically depicts a teen suicide and is about to enter its second season, which is sure to get attention from your teens and maybe even preteens.

While producers argue that the show tackles the realities of taking one's own life and may provide a public service by raising awareness, this may not be correct. Searches for "suicide" are on the rise, according to an analysis of Google searches conducted after the series release.[2] Inquiries for the phrase "how to commit suicide" were up over 25%. And the lead study author cautions that increased contemplation translates to an increase in attempts.

Reason #2: Viral Games and Challenges

This brings us to reason number two to monitor teen online behavior: the potentially deadly dangers involving the almost unending array of viral games or "challenges."[3]

For instance, players of the "Blue Whale Challenge" advance through several levels, many of which are contained in hidden Web portals. The final trial suggests that the way to win is to commit suicide.

Other challenges, with names like the "Fire Challenge," the "Salt and Ice Challenge," and the "Cinnamon Challenge," have all resulted in serious injuries.

In fact, a New York girl was recently hospitalized and left permanently scarred when scalding water was thrown in her face as part of the "Hot Water Challenge."[4]

Reason #3: Cyberbullying

Let's talk about the third reason why we should keep an eye on social media: cyberbullying.

More than half of teens questioned admit that they have been bullied in cyberspace, and almost 20% experience it regularly.[5]

Teens unfortunately are being targeted by either cyberbullies or stalkers. It is not difficult for Internet-savvy predators to figure out how to locate and target someone through their online postings.

Many teens say they have been contacted by strangers through the Internet and have received unsolicited and inappropriate advertising. Also disturbing: Half say they don't tell their parents that it's happening.[5]

Our Job

A 2016 study reported that 11% of teens—that's 1 out of 9 teens—experienced a major depressive episode in the previous year.[6] We have to be vigilant!

Don't be afraid to address these issues with both your teenage patients and parents, and push to talk about them. The Internet, social media, and its effects on us are all constantly evolving.

We can help our pediatric patients by working with their parents to navigate this ever-changing landscape.

For Medscape and WebMD, I'm Dr Hansa Bhargava.

Follow Dr Bhargava on Twitter: @Dr_Hansa
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