Smartphones, tablets, and other gadgets are actually less harmful than most people believe. For one reason or another, the negative effects of screen time on mental health and well-being have been widely accepted.
It turns out, these harmful effects are widely overblown.
Psychological Effects Of Screen Time On Teens
In a study published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers analyzed data from more than 17,000 teenagers in the United States, Ireland, and United Kingdom to determine the link between screen time and well-being of adolescents.
Findings show that the total screen use per day had very little impact on the mental health of teenagers, whether they're using their gadgets on weekdays or weekends. Screen time before bedtime also did not show a link in the adolescents' well-being.
"Analyzing three different datasets, which include improved measurements of screen time, we found little clear-cut evidence that screen time decreases adolescent well-being, even if the use of digital technology occurs directly before bedtime," Andrew Przybylski, coauthor and Director of Research at the Oxford Internet Institute, explains in a press release from the Association for Psychological Science.
Study Uses Strict Methods To Come To Its Conclusions
According to the researchers, plenty of the studies exploring the link between screen time and psychological well-being rely on the subjects' self-reporting of technology use, even though recent findings show that only one-third of them provide accurate and reliable accounts.
In a bid to deliver objective and more accurate findings, Przybylski and the rest of the team used both self-reported measures of their screen time and time-use diaries.
The teens' well-being was analyzed using data provided by both the adolescent subjects and their caregivers. Measures included psychosocial functioning, depression symptoms, self-esteem, and mood.
Finally, the final of the three studies was preregistered, which means that the team publicly documented the analyses they are planning to run before they even analyzed the data. This practice prevents them from reaching a hypothesis after the results have already been revealed.
"To retain influence and trust, robust and transparent research practices will need to become the norm — not the exception," Przybylski says. "We hope our approach will set a new baseline for new research on the psychological study of technology."
Other Factors Aside From Screen Time Could Cause Harm
While the time that adolescents spend on their smartphones and tablets may not negatively impact their mental health, other factors may come into play.
Dr. Max Davie, who is an officer for health improvement for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, explains to The Guardian that the study is valuable in that it provides reliable data and analysis.
However, he adds that there are other reasons to prioritize a good night's sleep over screen use. To maintain physical health and positive family relationships, it's best to follow the RCPCH guidelines regarding screen time, according to Davie.
Others, such as Dr. Bernadka Dubicka from the child and adolescent faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, point out that content can be just as harmful as time.
"We know that screen time is not the main driver of mental illness, but dangerous online content can have an enormous impact on young people and their mental health," Dubicka tells The Guardian.