Screen Time and Suicide Risk Among Emerging Adults

May 05, 2023

News Type:  Weekly Spark, Weekly Spark Research

In a new study, researchers examined the association between screen media use and suicide risk among adolescents over a 10-year period, from adolescence to emerging adulthood.

The study participants were part of the Flourishing Families Project, an ongoing, longitudinal study of family life. Data collection took place from 2009-2019. Participants ranged from 12-15 years old (average 13.82) when they were first surveyed. Most participants (67%) came from two-parent families, while 33% came from single-parent families. The sample population was 65% Caucasian, 12% Black, 19% multi-ethnic, and 4% “other.” Sixty-one percent of participants’ mothers and 70% of their fathers had a bachelor’s degree or higher. Annual family incomes ranged from less than $59,000 (18.2%) to $150,000 or more.

Each year of the survey, participants were asked how much time they spent on a typical day watching TV programs (on any device), playing video games (online or offline), talking on a cell phone, texting on a cell phone, and using social networking sites such as Facebook. In the first year of the study, depression was assessed using the 20-item self-report Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale for Children1. In the final year of the study, suicide risk was assessed using the Revised Suicidal Behavior Questionnaire2. By the end of the study, the average age of participants was 23.3 and 7% had a high school education or less, 54% had some college or were currently enrolled, and 385 had a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The study found that boys who played more video games had higher levels of cyber-victimization (e.g., had something embarrassing or mean posted or re-posted about them online) and higher suicide risk. Boys with higher use of media apps that involved reading had higher levels of negative social media use (e.g., compared themselves to others on social media) and the highest suicide risk. Higher use of entertainment apps, social media, and increasing use of video games over time was associated with higher suicide risk for girls. The results of this study suggest that the pattern of social media use over time, not just time spent on social media, is most predictive of suicide risk in emerging adulthood.

While the results of this study are intriguing, they do not establish a causal link between screen media use and suicide risk. The data is based on self-report and does not account for potential mediating factors, including those in the family environment. Suicide risk was not measured at the beginning of the study; some participants may have been at risk prior to the start of the study and there may have been other earlier factors that influenced media use. The families that participated in this study were primarily White, middle-income, well-educated, two-parent families and the findings may not be generalizable to low-income, less-educated, or non-White populations.

Coyne, S. M., Hurst, J. L., Dyer, W. J., Hunt, Q., Schvanaveldt, E., Brown, S., & Jones, G. (2021). Suicide risk in emerging adulthood: Associations with screen time over 10 Years. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 50(12), 2324-2338.

  1. Weissman, M. M., Orvaschel, H., & Padian, N. (1980). Children’s symptom and social functioning: Self-report scales. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disorders, 168(12),736–740. 10.1097/00005053-198012000-00005
  2. Osman, A., Bagge, C. L., Gutierrez, P. M., Konick, L. C., Kopper, B. A., & Barrios, F. X. (2001). The Suicidal Behaviors Questionnaire-Revised (SBQ-R): Validation with clinical and nonclinical samples. Assessment, 8(4), 443–454.10.1177/107319110100800409