A new study has found that queer kids aged 10-14 are spending way longer staring at their screens than their straight counterparts. And it’s probably not good for them.
The study says they spend around 10.4 hours on their screens each day. That’s a whopping four hours more than straight kids.
The study was published in the Annals of Epidemiology.
It looked at data on over 10,000 preteens culled between 2018-2020. All the youngsters signed up to take part in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study. It’s largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the United States.
The study’s lead author is Jason Nagata, MD, an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco.
“Lesbian, gay, and bisexual adolescents are more likely to experience school-based bullying and exclusion from peer groups due to their sexual orientation, leading them to spend less time in traditional school activities and more time on screens,” says Nagata in a press statement.
“Texting, and using social media and the internet for virtual communication could be helpful for LGB preteens to find and receive support from other LGB people who may not be available in their local communities.”
On the downside, the kids were also asked if they thought their screen time was problematic. They were asked if they agreed with statements such as, “I play video games so much that it has a bad effect on my schoolwork,” and “I’ve tried to use my social media apps less but I can’t.”
Escaping into an online world of gaming and YouTube videos
Nagata told Queerty that turning to the digital world and the internet had benefits but also downsides for gay youngsters.
“Queer youth who don’t have support in their local communities may turn to the internet to find and receive the help they need. Screens can also be helpful to stay in touch with friends and family who live far away.
“Risks of screen use include poorer sleep, less physical activity, and mental health consequences associated with overuse. In another recent study, we found a higher risk of sleep problems among gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth compared to straight youth.”
According to its authors, one of the study’s limitations is that most people don’t identify their sexual orientation until they’re about 17 or 18. Therefore, some of the young participants who said they were straight may turn out to identify as gay when older.
“Some of the adolescents in our study might not have come out yet or fully understand their sexuality. When children in this study were 9-10 years old, 1.5% identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. By age 11-12, 4.4% identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual and 3.8% were questioning. The percentage of study participants who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual will likely increase through their teenage years.”
The study did not seek to ask kids exactly what they were watching online. However, it noted many said they watch a lot of YouTube videos.
Do parents know how much time their kids spend online?
The researchers recommend parents are aware of how much time their children spend online. It suggests they are active in discussing these issues with their offspring.
“Parents should regularly talk to their teens about screen usage and develop a family media use plan. Parents can develop a family media use plan which could include setting limits and encouraging screen-free time, such as before bedtime or during family meals,” he told Queerty.
“We know screen use interferes with sleep, and good sleep is important for mental health.”
He also recommends parents keep an eye on their kids’ eating habits. This is because “Social media use is linked to body image dissatisfaction in LGB youth.”
Is there a set number of hours that kids should spend looking at their screens?
“The American Academy of Pediatrics used to recommend less than two hours of daily screen time for children and adolescents ages 5 to 18,” he replies. “Now they are moving away from giving specific hours because the reality is that most kids spend far more than two hours a day on screens, and not all screen time is equal. Now they recommend creating a plan based on what makes sense for your family given your kids’ screen habits and your family’s situation.”