Montreal teens more digitally dependent during pandemic, but many are bored of staring at screens

A new study from Montreal public health found screen time has surged among adolescents during the pandemic. Seventy per cent of teenagers said they’re staring at their phones, scrolling through social media or playing video games more often.

"It's a high figure," said Jean-Francois Biron, a researcher with public health group the Direction régionale de santé publique. "Their well-being was affected."

Biron and his team surveyed 725 Montrealers between the ages of 13 and 17 from April to May 2021.

According to the study, 27 per cent of adolescents spend five hours or more in front of a screen. The number jumps to 44 per cent on the weekends. That time doesn't include school work.

While technology helped teenagers stay connected during shutdowns and school closures, all that scrolling also had negative consequences.

"The study shows spending an intense amount of time on screen affects the mental health of adolescents," said Biron.

Forty-five per cent of teenagers surveyed had trouble sleeping, while another 37 per cent said their performance at school took a hit.

It's a love-hate relationship when it comes to teenagers and technology. More than a third are bored of constantly staring at screens.

But kicking the digital dependence might be difficult. Even though restrictions are lifted, University of Montreal psychology professor Linda Pagani said teenagers have become even more accustomed to excessive screen time.

"There's a thirst for interaction (among teenagers) that is unparalleled in any other developmental period. But what happens with confinement is you develop these new habits and then when confinement ends, you’ve (still) got this habit going on," said Pagani, who specializes in behavioural development among children.

Her advice to parents is to encourage their children to get active and find work.

"The most wonderful intervention right now is to get your kids a part-time job," she said. "It increases their socialization. They develop a motivation to succeed at something."


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