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The long-term impacts of too much screen timeFree Access

Q: I’m worried about the considerable amount of time my teenager spends staring at her phone, but I also recognize what a powerful tool technology can be. What long-term impacts should I consider?

A: You certainly are not alone in your anxiety about screen time. Common Sense Media, a leading nonprofit dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology, reports the average teen today spends 6.5 hours per day staring at a portable screen. 

First, let’s consider what your teen is experiencing. Her screen is a veritable Nirvana of the kinds of stimuli teens have always craved: dialogue with friends, interactions with the opposite sex, gossip, games, music, entertainment and, perhaps most enticing, a 24-7 reality show featuring the (heavily curated) lives of everyone she knows. It’s the classic teenage experience available at the touch of a button, on-demand. There is no surprise it’s so captivating.

There certainly are many negative potential impacts to consider. From the world of neuroscience, we know screen time creates addictive brain behavior described as drug-like in effect. Recent research suggests increased screen time correlates with decreased happiness.

What worries me most, however, is what isn’t happening during those 6.5 hours. That time used to be spent on real human connection. Screens give the illusion of connection (“friends,” “followers,” “snap-streaks” and the like), but actually fuel disconnection. 

This disconnect blunts one of the most powerful and important traits we can develop: empathy, the ability to feel with another. Screen time can impact even the most basic form of empathy: the ability to recognize another’s facial expression. Researchers found after just five days spent at a device-free camp, teens were substantially better at facial recognition than a control group.

What to do? Moderation is key. Set and enforce limits around phone time. Create device-free spaces and times for the whole family (dinner is a great place to start). Schedule device-free days and plan activities that require interpersonal engagement. Insist on eye contact in conversation. And, of course, be mindful of the model you set; be judicious about your own use of technology.

Bart Bronk is the head of University Liggett School. He also has served at Liggett as provost, COO, associate head of school and dean of faculty. Bronk has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and did his graduate research on the development, perception and expression of empathy in the school setting, a topic on which he regularly speaks to educators locally, regionally and nationally. University Liggett School is a member of The Family Center’s Association of Professionals.

The Family Center’s mission is to serve the community through programs and resources vital to today’s families. As a nonprofit organization, it is completely supported by community donations. To learn more, visit, call (313) 447-1374 or email