Teens’ Mental Health Problems: Tech Time Not to Blame

teen screen

“Study of 400 teens finds little evidence linking excessive smartphone use and mental health outcomes”

As smartphone use has become a large part of our daily lives, affecting us 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, research on the effects of  technology on our mental disposition, is extremely important. This is particularly so for youngsters. One such study conducted by the University of California, Irvine, and published in the journal of Clinical Psychological Science, indicates that the amount of time adolescents are spending on their mobiles and online, is really not that bad. To ascertain whether more time spent using digital tech is connected to worse mental health outcomes, the researchers spent a considerable amount of time observing young adolescents on their smartphones.

Results

The team of researchers: Pennsylvania State University’s professor of behavioral health, Michael Russell; Purdue University’s postdoctoral researcher, Madeleine George; University of North Carolina’s professor of psychology, Michaeline Jensen; and University of California’s professor of psychological science, Candice Odgers, all: “found little evidence of longitudinal or daily linkages between digital technology use and adolescent mental health”.

Discussing the findings, Odgers remarked: “It may be time for adults to stop arguing over whether smartphones and social media are good or bad for teens’ mental health and start figuring out ways to best support them in both their offline and online lives”. And Jensen noted: “Contrary to the common belief that smartphones and social media are damaging adolescents’ mental health, we don’t see much support for the idea that time spent on phones and online is associated with increased risk for mental health problems”.

Study Details

The research, which went on for two weeks, comprised a survey of 2,000-plus youngsters. It specifically monitored a sub-sample of approximately 400 teenagers on their mobiles, at various times throughout the day.  The adolescents who took part, were aged 10 to 15, and were representative of the radically and economically diverse youths who go to public schools in North Carolina.

Reports on the adolescents’ mental health symptoms were taken at three intervals during the day; and in addition to this, the subjects’ daily tech use was recorded every night.

The researchers asked if youngsters: “who engaged more with digital technologies were more likely to experience later mental health symptoms, and whether days that adolescents spent more time using digital technology for a wide range of purposes, were also days when mental health problems were more common”. The results showed that in both cases: “increased digital technology use was not related to worse mental health”.

Associations

When the researchers observed associations, interestingly, they were minor, and not at all what they had anticipated, bearing in mind the huge amount of worry about digital tech playing a negative role in adolescents’ mental health. To cite one example: “teens who reported sending more text messages over the study period actually reported feeling better (less depressed) than teens who were less frequent texters”.

In summary, although far more research on the subject is needed, these study results are very interesting, as they go against current concerns.