One in five kids are at risk for mental health problems: Is too much screen time to blame?

(NBC News) — An estimated 1 in 5 children or teens has an emotional, behavioral, or mental health disorder.

NBC News is diving into a question so many parents ask themselves: Is there a link between our kids’ use of smartphones and other electronic screens and their mental health?

There is a nickname for the generation born between 1995 and 2012: The “i-Gen,” as in iPhones and iPads. They don’t know a life without smartphones.

Teens touch their phones 80 times a day. That is no surprise to Meredyth Cohen and her friends at Marin School outside San Francisco. Meredyth told NBC’s Kate Snow she feels like she has to check social media all the time.

Meredyth was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at the age of 6, and her mother Katherine worries too much screen time could make it worse.

“When it gets right down to it, my concern about all the screen time is what it is taking the place of…like baking and going for hikes?” she said.

Psychologist Jean Twenge argues this generation is on the verge of the most severe mental health crisis for young people in decade.

“Teens are saying that they’re more anxious than they were, just five to ten years ago. More feeling depressed, feeling lonely. More fit the criteria for clinical level depression. More being admitted to the emergency room for self-harm and more are committing suicide,” she said. “They started spending more time online and they started spending less time with their friends in person.”

Other psychologists such as Candice Odgers question whether researchers like Twenge are overstating the link between screen time and mental health. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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