Teenagers who are suffering from anxiety might experience restlessness, excessive worries and fears, and a tendency toward wariness. Anxiety in teens also causes physical symptoms like cramps, headaches, muscle tension, and excessive sweating, among other things.
Anxiety can be very uncomfortable, and it can make your teen’s life much more difficult than it has to be. If your teen seems to be experiencing anxiety, you may be wondering what’s causing it.
If your teen spends a lot of time on their phone, tablet, computer, or gaming device, then the answer may be right in front of you. Experts believe that a rise in anxiety in teens is directly linked to screen time.
How Screen Time Leads to Anxiety in Teens
How are screens related to your teen’s anxiety problems? It depends.
Some studies have shown correlations between excessive screen time and anxiety. But the content on the screen is just as important as the amount of time spent on the screen.
Social media is a source of at least some teen anxiety. Negative social interactions that once took place mainly offline now often take place on social media, and smartphones and other devices mean that these interactions can follow teens everywhere, even into their homes or other safe spaces.
For example, bullying behavior may spill onto social media.
This can be very upsetting for a teen, as this is often a very public way to be bullied and it can be humiliating, and because it’s nearly impossible to escape from. A teen may be able to block the bullies, but can’t necessarily block everyone who shares or interacts with the bully’s posts.
If the bully is someone that the teen knows in person, such as someone from school, they may not have the option to block them in school-related groups. And if a teen is being harassed frequently, then every notification sound or alert can be an anxiety trigger.
Even if a teen isn’t being directly harassed on social media, just observing certain types of content online can be a source of anxiety for some teens. Smartphones and other portable internet-enabled devices make it more difficult for parents to know exactly what kinds of content their teen is looking at all times.
On top of that, there are plenty of things that teens can find online that might make them feel anxious, from explicit sexual content to disturbing news to videos and posts promoting extremist ideologies.
FOMO Contributes to Anxiety in Teens
Some teens may suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out) and that can cause feelings of anxiety as well. Social media can make it look like other people are leading more exciting lives, accomplishing more of their goals, or just living more interesting lives in general, and this can make some teens feel insecure.
In reality, social media profiles are often highly curated, and teens may not realize that when they look at their friends’ profiles, they’re seeing only the highlights, not the boring, unhappy, or uncomfortable parts of life. They compare these curated images of their friends’ lives to the more complete picture of their own and worry that they’re missing out or lacking something.
The real problem in those cases is that teens simply lack the experience and perspective to immediately understand that they’re not necessarily seeing the whole picture.
These are just some of the ways that teens who spend a lot of time on their screens may encounter situations that create or exacerbate anxiety.
Putting Limits on Screen Time
If your teen is experiencing anxiety, whether or not they believe it’s related to screen time, one possible way to alleviate some of that anxiety is to put limits on their screen time
That doesn’t mean that you should take your teen’s device away entirely. You want to protect your teenager, but you don’t want to take punitive actions if your teen hasn’t done anything wrong. Plus, this can just encourage your teen to find ways to sneak screen time, and those types of actions are likely to just increase their anxiety.
Instead, talk to your teen about the content they’re viewing and the kinds of interactions they’re having online.
Encourage them to step back from content or interactions they find stressful, and ask them to simply try cutting back their screen time to see if it helps their anxiety. Your teen might be surprised to find that using their phone less or putting it in another room before going to bed, for example, actually does help them feel better.
(And if cutting back on the screens doesn’t help your teen feel better at all, that’s important information as well. Something else may be at the root of their anxiety.)
Treating Anxiety in Teens.
In addition to limiting screen time, there are a number of different ways to help ease anxiety in teens.
Your teen might benefit from more exercise, learning mindfulness techniques, meditating, or finding ways to improve their sleeping habits. You can help your teen with many of these things:
- Exercise with your teen.
- Explore mindfulness and relaxation techniques together.
- Learn to meditate together.
- Take inventory of the family sleeping spaces and sleep habits, and help make sure that everyone is practicing good sleep hygiene.
In some cases, teens might need counseling or therapy to help find the cause of their anxiety, and some teens also benefit from anti-anxiety medications.
Let your teen know that it’s OK if they need more than self-help or parental help to overcome their anxiety, and help them seek out professional assistance in dealing with anxiety if it lasts for a long time or is very disruptive to their lives.
Commonly Asked Questions
1. Is Screen Time or Content Most Important to Monitor?
The content on your teen’s screen is just as important as the amount of time spent on the screen. Negative social interactions can migrate to social media, leaving teens vulnerable to bullying behavior.
2. What Is FOMO?
FOMO simply means the “Fear of Missing Out,” a common phenomena among active social media users. Teens may generate feelings of anxiety as social media can make it look like other people are leading more exciting lives.
3. How Can I Help Treat My Teen’s Anxiety?
Rather than only limiting your adolescent’s screen time, consider exercising with your teen, learning mindfulness techniques, meditating, or finding ways to improve their sleeping habits.
Increased screen use is a reason why anxiety has been on the rise among teenagers for some time.
Fortunately, it’s also an anxiety trigger that you and your teen can easily address right away, so it’s well worth trying to reduce your teen’s screen time to see if that helps. But it’s also important to remember that anxiety can be caused or exacerbated by many things and that your teen may benefit from other interventions as well.