Exploring Recreational Screen Time and Social Anxiety in Adolescents

Sarah West, MS Ed, RN; Rachael Puszczynski, BSN, RN; Tanya Cohn, PhD, MEd, RN

Disclosures

Pediatr Nurs. 2021;47(3):133-140. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Abstract

Objective: The purpose of this exploratory descriptive correlational study was to examine relationships between adolescent screen time and social anxiety. A secondary purpose was to explore sex-specific relationships between adolescent screen time and social anxiety.

Method: Screen time habits, as well as the Kutcher Social Anxiety Disorder Scale scores, were collected from 84 high school health students (ages 14 to 17 years). Exploratory analysis included independent t tests and Pearson's r correlations between demographics and the K-GSADS-A. Additional subgroup analysis was conducted by sex to further explore the K-GSADS-A.

Results: The majority of parents of students surveyed do not limit screen time for their teens. Both males and females had higher levels of social anxiety reported with higher screen time (p < 0.001). Males that spent less time on screens and thought their parents spent more time on screens had higher fear and anxiety scores (p = 0.02). Females in particular scored higher on the anxiety scale when reporting more than three hours daily on social media (p > 0.05).

Conclusion: Using the information obtained in the surveys, teen mental health is impacted by screen use, especially social media, and by parental involvement, including limit setting and parental use of screens in the home.

Introduction

Electronic device use is a popular sedentary activity in society, particularly in youth, and is associated with anxiety (Maras et al., 2015). Specifically, recreational screen time may represent a risk factor for psychiatric disorders among youth (Maras et al., 2015). Alarmingly, on average, the majority of children spend more than two hours daily on screens. More hours of recreational screen time have been associated with lower wellbeing in children ages 2 to 17 years (Twenge & Campbell, 2018). This study points to a connection in increased feelings of anxiety in children who spend greater than two hours per day on screens (Twenge & Campbell, 2018). By parent report, more than 1 in 20 children in the United States had current anxiety or depression in 2011–2012. Both were associated with significant comorbidity and impact on children and families (Bitsko et al., 2018).

As stated by Wolters Kluwer Health (2018), children with anxiety were more likely to have other issues over time associated with school, parenting stress, and unmet medical needs. There are many gaps in the conceptualization and measurement of mental health and recreational screen time. Historically, it is thought that an important piece to bettering the health and development of children and adolescents is by having a better understanding of media use and its effects (Rideout et al., 2010). The purpose of this exploratory descriptive correlational study was to examine the relationship between recreational screen time and anxiety in adolescents. A secondary purpose was to explore sex-specific relationships between adolescent screen time and social anxiety.

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