New findings from Oxford University cast doubt on the popular notion that spending time in front of screens is detrimental to adolescents’ mental health.
In a study published online in Psychological Science, researchers report finding little evidence of substantial negative associations between the use of digital technology and adolescent well-being.
“While psychological science can be a powerful tool for understanding the link between screen use and adolescent wellbeing, it still routinely fails to supply stakeholders and the public with high-quality, transparent, and objective investigations into growing concerns about digital technologies,” said professor and study coauthor Andrew Przybylski, PhD, director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute.
“Analyzing three different datasets, which include improved measurements of screen time, we found little clear-cut evidence that screen time decreases adolescent wellbeing, even if the use of digital technology occurs directly before bedtime.”
Previous studies have relied on single-country samples and self-report measures known to be unreliable, researchers explained. The data used in their investigation spanned 17,247 participants in Ireland, the United States, and the United Kingdom. In addition to self-reported measures, time-use diaries supplied information on how much time adolescent participants spent using screens each day.
Researchers also pointed out that their study used preregistration—which required investigators to provide detail on how they would analyze the data before it was released—to prevent hypothesizing after results were known.
“Because technologies are embedded in our social and professional lives, research concerning digital-screen use and its effects on adolescent wellbeing is under increasing scrutiny,” said study coauthor Amy Orben, a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute and a lecturer at the University of Oxford.
Findings from the study suggest an adolescent’s total daily screen time has little impact on mental health—on weekdays or on the weekend. Furthermore, researchers found no clear associations between use of digital screens 2 hours, 1 hour, or 30 minutes before bedtime and a drop in well-being.
“To retain influence and trust, robust and transparent research practices will need to become the norm—not the exception,” Dr. Przybylski said. “We hope our approach will set a new baseline for new research on the psychological study of technology.”