While many parents and guardians are concerned that their children are spending too much time on mobile devices, video games, and social media, a Michigan State University study has explained why they need not be concerned.
Keith Hampton, a professor in the Department of Media and Information and the Quello Center’s head of academic research, asserts that he is more concerned about disconnected teens than he is about screen usage. “Teens who are detached from today’s technology are more separated from their classmates,” Hampton explained. “Many young people are dealing with mental health issues.”
While teens frequently struggle with concerns of self-esteem relating to body image, friends, family, and school, disconnection is a far more serious hazard than screen time. Social media and video games are strongly embedded in adolescent culture, and they serve more than one purpose. They assist children in socialising, contribute to identity formation, and serve as a conduit for social support.”
Hampton and his colleagues investigate disconnection. The majority of youngsters have regular access to the internet. These youngsters feel detached only when they opt to reduce their device use or when their parents intervene to limit their online time.
A large number of youngsters, mostly in rural America, are alienated for entirely different reasons. They live in houses with extremely poor broadband infrastructure.
These kids usually lack internet connection outside of school, have very slow access at home, or have irregular data coverage on cellphones.
“If we want insight into the mental health of teenagers who have no choice but to be isolated from screens, rural youths are the only surviving natural control group,” Hampton said.
In a peer-reviewed paper based on a survey of 3,258 rural adolescents, Hampton and his colleagues compared the self-esteem and social activities of teens with no or limited home internet access to teens who are the heaviest screen users as well as teens whose parents strictly monitor or limit their screen use. This is what they found out.
Being a girl was the single most important predictor of poor self-esteem. This was not surprising given how stressful adolescence can be for young females. Poor academic performance was the second most important factor in influencing self-esteem in both males and females.
Teens with little internet connection at home and those whose parents exerted the most control over their media usage had much lower self-esteem than ordinary girls or students who fared badly in school, but only marginally.
The amount of time teens spend on screens, whether watching movies, playing games, or using social media, had no effect on their self-esteem.
Even those who used screens “excessively” reported better self-esteem than those who were unplugged owing to a lack of internet access or severe parental control of their online activity.
Why? Because media is so strongly embedded in young culture.
“Isolation occurs from being away from those kinds of entertainment and interaction that pervade kids’ lives,” Hampton explained. “For most teenagers, it’s social networking, video games, and uploading internet videos. It is frequently how teenagers obtain information, interact, and share.”
This is not to say that teens do not interact with one another. Teenagers who spend more time on social media and watching videos spend more time socialising.
While this study was conducted before to the COVID-19 epidemic, it highlights the horrific toll taken by rural adolescents who were disconnected during the pandemic, as well as the critical need to fix gaps in rural broadband infrastructure.”
According to Hampton, this does not imply that social networking sites are beneficial. Online bullying and algorithms that direct youngsters to potentially harmful content endanger their mental health. Furthermore, some youths are more vulnerable to harm than others.
However, this study shows that when parents communicate to their children about the hazards of media use, focus on teaching them critical media literacy, and offer them greater control over their media use, their children report higher self-esteem.
“I urge parents to take an interest in what their teenagers are doing online and spend time with them rather than focusing on how much time they spend on screens,” Hampton added.