Most can’t go one day without looking at their cellphone. One study suggests doing so too much might affect your personality and outlook on life. 

A drop in happiness, self-esteem and life satisfaction of American teenagers came as their ownership of smartphones increased from zero to 73 percent over the past several years. 

According to a study recently published in the journal Emotion, psychologists from San Diego State University and the University of Georgia used data on mood and media from about 1.1 million teens to figure out why a decades-long rise in happiness and satisfaction among them suddenly shifted in 2012 and decreased over the next four years, according to the Los Angeles Times.  

Over the past several years, the number of U.S. residents with smartphones has increased. By 2012, half of Americans — and about 37 percent of teens — owned one, according to the L.A. Times. By 2016, 77 percent of all Americans carried a smartphone, including at least 73 percent of teens.

Researchers asked eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders to respond to questions on how they felt about life and how they used their time. 

“They found that between 1991 and 2016, adolescents who spent more time on electronic communication and screens — social media, texting, electronic games or the internet — were less happy, less satisfied with their lives and had lower self-esteem,” according to the L.A. Times. “TV watching, which declined over nearly two decades they examined, was similarly linked to lower psychological well-being. 

“By contrast, adolescents who spent more time on non-screen activities had higher psychological well-being. They tended to profess greater happiness, higher self-esteem and more satisfaction with their lives.” 

Tammy King, executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Johnson County, said it’s not surprising that teens are dealing with greater feelings of unhappiness.

“We have allowed them to trade in-person relationships and activities with texting and online activities,” King said. “Kids are not interacting face to face in their free time as much. Even though they use their smartphones to communicate, they are really losing out on the gifts of friendship and activity time spent with those friends. 

“A phone just isn’t a substitute for actual time spent laughing, playing and sometimes just being silly. A text message can’t really comfort a hurting child as much as a good friend’s presence. The smart phone is just a very pour substitute for healthy relationships and activities.”

Smartphones, she said, are essentially lifelines to friends.

“This creates immense pressure to keep phones with you all the time, so you don’t miss a text or a call,” she said. “This is incredibly stressful. All of us — adults included — need to be able to unplug from technology. People can hardly get through a meal without checking their phones. This is devastating our quality of life.  

“We, all of us, need to connect to each other, face to face. That is how God made us. Even though kids feel they are communicating through their phones, many kids are becoming isolated. They are also losing the art of face-to-face communication. This contributes to a feeling of low self-esteem and anxiety when they want and need to communicate with others.”

Children, she said, also need to by physically active.

“They are happier and healthier when they participate in outdoor activities,” she said. “This also combats depression. Kids need to just be kids without worrying about cell phones and devices. They need to be riding bicycles, roller blading, playing football, etc. These are activities that allow them to have a lot of fun with other friends while getting physical exercise that helps keep their body in balance. 

“Many kids today have devices as their ‘babysitters.’ Because of changes in our society, we as parents/caregivers have to find time to put healthy activities back in their schedules. Involvement in school leadership clubs/activities, 4-H, FFA, choir, band are also wonderful ways for kids to build their confidence.” 

In short, she said parents need to raise their children instead of relying so much on smartphones and devices to fill the gaps for them. 

“We also need to take devices away for designated periods of time in order to allow our kids to be kids,” she said. “If kids can blame their inability to return a phone call or text on their parents, that gives them a legitimate reason for not responding instantly to other kids. 

“Parents have a lot to combat these days. We face the same challenges in our home. Parents have to really work at this. It is not a one and done. It is our job to protect our kids. Sometimes what they need protection from is all the technology that they are having to deal with in their daily lives.”

For more information about the study, visit

Protect kids from excessive technology


React to this story:


This Week's Circulars