Last year, unlimited screen time was found to be one of the most detrimental effects of the pandemic. Adolescent’s time spent using devices more than doubled from 2019 to 2020, jumping from 3.8 to 7.7 hours per day, not including time spent online for school work, reading ebooks, or listening to music. Studies show that most teens feel addicted to their phones, and a large majority feel the urge to check notifications immediately, with 78% reporting that they check their devices hourly. Since the pandemic, teen social media use has increased, which opens the door for potential accessing of harmful digital content.

There is a significant mental and emotional impact of online experiences, such as mental health issues, cyberbullying, or accidental exposure to inappropriate content such as pornography. It has been reported that teens who use social media for more than three hours per day have a greater risk of suffering mental health issues, and 1 in 6 teens have experienced cyberbullying in some capacity. In addition, children are first exposed to pornography at age 11, which is an average that is nearly 3 years younger than previous numbers from 1985. This type of exposure can have long term consequences, such as an increased chance of teen pregnancy, greater risk of depression, lower self-esteem and loneliness, and the normalization of unsafe behavior and violence. This type of environment allows for inappropriate content to be shared and child sexual abuse material (CSAM) to increase in frequency in this online spaces.

Accidental exposure can occur via a number of different avenues, such as online chat rooms, video games, innocent search terms, or misleading links or advertisements. Fortunately, methods like establishing rules, enforcing good habits, and enabling parental controls are only a few of the effective methods to protect children from this potential harm when using the internet. Reports show that 65% of young teens aged 11-16 want their families to use parental controls, indicating that these methods are in the best interest of everyone, and can increase the safety and enjoyability of online experiences as a whole.