Screen time has little impact on teenagers’ mental health - study

Research involving Irish youths finds no negatives to screen time before bed

The study examined data from more than 17,000 teenagers. Photograph: Getty Images

The study examined data from more than 17,000 teenagers. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The amount of time teenagers spend staring at screens has little impact on their mental health, according to a major Oxford University study involving Irish adolescents.

The study found there was no identifiable negative impacts of using screens before bed, despite public assumptions to the contrary.

The research, published in the Psychological Science journal, draws on responses from Irish, American and British teenagers about their use of screens.

The study examined data from more than 17,000 teenagers, over 5,300 of which were Irish, 11,884 were from Britain, and some 704 from a study in the United States. The responses of Irish teenagers on screen time use were drawn from the Growing Up in Ireland project, a long term study which tracks behaviour in young people over a number of years.

Conclusion

The Oxford study’s conclusion suggested that using technology such as computers or smartphones before bed “might not be inherently harmful to psychological well-being, even though this is a well worn idea in the media and public debates”.

The study was conducted by Professor Andrew Przybylski and Amy Orben of the Oxford Internet Institute.

It was based on responses from young people on how much time they spent watching screens, either playing video games, on their smartphones, watching TV, or using the computer.

The nature of the data, as a self-reported estimate from young people on their screen usage, was one limit to the research.

However, tracking participants screen usage across multiple devices over several days for a more accurate picture would be “extremely resource intensive,” the study said.

The research did not find any link between screen time and mental health, up to two hours, one hour, and even 30 minutes before bed.

“We found little clear-cut evidence that screen time decreases adolescent well-being, even if the use of digital technology occurs directly before bedtime,” Prof Przybylski said.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Prof Przybylski said they found no difference in screen usage between Irish teenagers and their UK or US counterparts.

The findings of the study showed assumptions about the impact of smartphones and screen use on young people had to be backed up by evidence and research, he said.

Regulate

“We are coming to a point where the UK and the EU are thinking about how to regulate these massive social media companies like Facebook, ” he said.

But rather than placing arbitrary limits on adolescents usage of social media, politicians should be pushing for firms such as Facebook to allow academics examine their data, to get an accurate idea of the platform’s influence on people’s lives, he said.

“They keep that data to themselves … We need them to open up their data vaults,” Prof Przybylski said.

“For every problem there is a simple and wrong solution. You can’t know the effect until you study it,” he said.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg met with several Irish politicians in Dublin in recent days, as the platform comes under increasing scrutiny over how it moderates content.

Last year the Dáil voted to set the digital age of consent at 16, opposed to the Government’s proposal of 13 years of age. The decision would mean social media giants would have to seek parental consent for the accounts of users aged between 13 and 16. The decision to set the higher age limit was opposed by several child rights and digital safety organisations.