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Extended Screen Time May Increase Suicide Risk in Teen Girls, Study Finds

Teenage girl in a pink shirt sitting at a computer

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Key Takeaways

  • A new study found that teenage girls who spend 2+ hours a day looking at screens are at greater risk of suicide.
  • Experts suggest protecting your teen by delaying the use of social media and hours long screen time until after age 13.

Being a teen is tough, and even harder for the teens growing up in the age of social media.

Studies have shown that suicide risk for teens has increased dramatically in the last decade, and one, in particular, warns that teenage girls who spend hours a day looking at screens have the highest suicide risk not only in their teen years but in their early to mid-twenties as well.

Published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, this study took place over a ten year period and included 500 adolescents–51% who were female and at the beginning were between 12 and 15. The girls who were most at risk of suicide had the highest levels of screen time–including social media, TV, and video games.

According to study co-author Sarah Coyne, "We found that girls who started using social media at two to three hours a day or more at age 13, and then increased over time, had the highest levels of suicide risk in emerging adulthood.” This number is low, considering that teens average over seven hours of screen time outside of their school work.

Adolescent Boys Are Less at Risk

The boys with an increased risk for suicide also had increased social media use, as well as time using reading apps. However, despite the observed trend with girls, there wasn’t as strong of a pattern with adolescent boys.

Coyne explains that girls' peers may make the difference. "We know that girls tend to feel and internalize relationship distress at different levels than boys," said Coyne. "This type of relationship distress can but not always–be present in social media interactions." Social comparisons and FOMO (fear of missing out) also have higher levels of social comparison, which is why the effects were likely stronger for girls.

How to Protect Your Teen

More research on causation is required, as the study team is unsure if the increased screen time is merely a side effect–the product of suicidal ideations, or if it is the cause. 

Either way, this doesn’t mean that teens should avoid social media altogether. Coyne proposes, “Delay the start of using social media until at least age 13. And then start with low levels that only moderately increase over time. This pattern was fairly protective for suicide risk over time.”

Sarah Coyne, PhD

We found that girls who started using social media at two to three hours a day or more at age 13, and then increased over time, had the highest levels of suicide risk in emerging adulthood.

— Sarah Coyne, PhD

She also recommends that parents communicate with their children about their social media use and their feelings. Since the start of the study in 2009, children's depression and anxiety diagnoses have increased by at least 8%.

Licensed clinical professional counselor Dr. LaNail Plummer-Marcano believes that parents should empower their children and provide them with some emotional grounding. “Despite our babies growing up and no longer wanting to be treated like babies, they still need us. Parents can provide emotional support through expressive support, which is especially important because parents should be in a position to counter the number of things they may hear negatively from peers.” The study does indicate that cyberbullying plays a role in negative social media interactions, just like physiological changes.

LaNail Plummer-Marcano, LCPC

Low self-esteem and internal adolescent development can influence why increased screen time–especially social media, can affect a teen’s mood.

Plummer-Marcano explains that "Low self-esteem and internal adolescent development can influence why increased screen time–especially social media, can affect a teen’s mood."

She continues, “Teens are adjusting to their psychosocial, physical and emotional development in addition to changes in their hormones and environment. This may cause them to think differently because they haven’t had the opportunity to address and develop enough problem-solving and decision-making skills.”

What This Means for You

Plummer-Marcano believes that teens should work on feeling empowered. She says, "Teens are often-times innovative and create coping mechanisms that complement their personalities." She believes that, instead of feeling diminished, they can work on emotional expression."Teens can identify things that make them feel good such as art or exercise to uplift them. Listening to songs that compliment positive thinking or watching shows that exhibit advocation is just as important to our teens."

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4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Coyne SM, Hurst JL, Dyer WJ, et al. Suicide risk in emerging adulthood: Associations with screen time over 10 years. J Youth Adolescence. 2021. doi:10.1007/s10964-020-01389-6

  2. Common Sense Media. The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens, 2019. Updated October 28, 2019.

  3. Bitsko RH, Holbrook JR, Ghandour RM, et al. Epidemiology and impact of healthcare provider diagnosed anxiety and depression among US children. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2018 Jun;39(5):395-403. doi:10.1097/DBP.0000000000000571

  4. McHugh BC, Wisniewske P, Rosson MB, Carroll JM. When social media traumatizes teens: The roles of online risk exposure, coping, and post-traumatic stress. Internet Res. 2018;28(5):1169-1188. doi:10.1108/IntR-02-2017-0077