Digital phone and tablet addiction is troubling. Here’s what we need to do about it

Stand-up comedian Navneet Alang on the hidden health costs of not taking care of your child’s screen time

Arguments that don’t address teenage and parental health issues seem to be all too common in discussion about hand-held devices like smartphones and tablets. This is especially concerning in a society that frequently talks about themselves in the past tense.

I’m trying to separate facts from rumour for this discussion. When it comes to medical issues, there is ample evidence that the impact of spending too much time on screens can lead to health problems.

Young children in particular can be left unsupervised with smartphones and tablets. Studies have found that users of smartphones are more likely to be teenagers and that they spend longer with screens. They also have a much higher risk of depression, more sleep problems and reduced attention span. It’s pretty bad, but how bad is it?

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By comparison, studies have found that adolescents spend, on average, an hour and half a day online, nearly two hours a day offline and almost eight hours in front of a TV. Research shows that between 63% and 84% of adolescents spend time online every day.

The extent to which young people are exposed to unhealthy screen time is a disturbing matter and one that requires real attention from parents and the wider community.

Recent work suggests that adolescents aged 15 to 24 spend more than eight hours online per day, and as much as 15 to 20 hours on daily screen time. Technology is changing as fast as ever and teenagers are using it differently.

Over the past year I’ve been hosting shows about screen time on my Facebook page – Young Adults on the Screen – which I’ve been working on for several years. We have seen the issues highlighted in this content coming to light, and though the research isn’t conclusive yet, it is clear that screen time has become a bigger issue than ever before.

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In our new comedy show, The Ten Worst Things a Teenager Will Do to You, we speak to teenagers about their lives with smartphones, laptops and tablets. So far we’ve been getting great feedback for our humour – but the show also pushes the issue of screen time. As things stand, I can’t help but think that I’m right: more and more problems are being caused by our need to check our phones and tablets constantly.

Our job as parents is to make sure that our children stay safe and healthy. That’s an ongoing, human responsibility, not something we can just wipe off the responsibility on to other people. There is no one single way to stop teenagers from spending too much time on their smartphones, but how can we help our children to be able to choose when they should use screens?

It’s not too late for children to have an active, well-rounded childhood, and I’d love to know how we can help.

You can check out Navneet’s show on Facebook.

• Navneet Alang is a stand-up comedian and the creator of Young Adults on the Screen

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