Screen Use


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The Surgeon General of the USA, Dr Vivek Murthy, has recently issued a caution about adolescent use of social media, citing research that identified 46% of adolescents maintain that they feel worse when they use social media. Stating that adolescence is a particularly vulnerable period of brain development, Dr Murthy said that adolescents “who spend more than 3 hours a day on social media face double the risk of poor mental health, including experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety."

Claiming that there are benefits for those adolescents who feel marginalised as social media provides an affirming community for them; however, Dr Murthy maintains that many adolescents are “commonly exposed to extreme, inappropriate, and harmful content" on social media.

It should be noted that the Surgeon General is warning all parents about the use of social media and is not addressing only the parents of high ability youth. Social media has been implicated in body dissatisfaction and social comparison, resulting in disordered eating behaviours and low self-esteem, especially among adolescent girls.

There is a concern in our society about the use of electronic gaming. As with the use of social media, many high ability students enjoy electronic gaming as a form of relaxation, stimulation, and challenge but parents and teachers often express concerns about the amount of time spent on screens (sometimes instead of completing homework or studying) and the potential danger associated with exposure to violence.

​Like many new technologies, there are positive and negative factors as well as complex societal dynamics associated with screen usage, however, parents, teachers and counsellors frequently share concerns about the amount of time engaged in screen use and students' obsessive desire to connect with others via screen use, especially when this occurs at the exclusion of physical and outdoor activities.

When research about screen use is synthesized with other literature, a compelling picture emerges about why high ability students are drawn towards electronic usage and may develop excessive behaviours. Parents have legitimate concerns about some students developing addictive levels of screen usage.  It is important to consider the neuroscience associated with screen use and the impact of this on high ability students' emotions, drives and behaviour patterns to assist individuals to access the benefits of screen use while establishing reasonable limits.  The need to belong is very seductive, especially for those {such as high ability students) who have previously felt different from those around them. Establishing oneself within a new group and doing whatever is necessary to belong is a very strong driver. 

The optimum match between the level of task difficulty and skill development in electronic games facilitates the positive psychological 'flow' experience, as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Patterns of behaviour that demonstrate a need for immediate gratification and short-term rewards in conjunction with long-term impacts and costs associated with extended periods of screen use suggest the emergence of addictive behaviour. Added to this is the physiological impetus to connect with others through screens and we have what is referred to as the 'perfect storm'. Behaviour that interferes with the amount of sleep, study, homework, work towards assignments or exercise is problematic and adults need to impose limits, becoming an adolescent's prefrontal cortex until this neurological function is developed.

© Michele Juratowitch  

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Last reviewed 02 June 2023
Last updated 02 June 2023