A new study of over 120,000 adolescents in the UK has found that moderate digital screen use actually had a beneficial relationship on teenagers' well-being.
As any parent would understand, one of the big questions and concerns with raising a child in the 21st century is how to manage their digital screen time. Andrew Przybylski, from the University of Oxford and lead researcher on the recently released study, identified a significant gap in the scientific research around the connections between teenagers psychological well-being and their screen use.
"When we looked at the existing literature as scientists, and parents, we saw an area rich in opinions but short on evidence," says Przybylski. We were surprised how poorly linked the literature was to the advice provided to caregivers and educators."
The study surveyed 120,000 15-year-olds and tracked the amount of time they spent per day engaging with screen-based activities including watching TV, playing video games and using computers or smartphones. The study correlated this information with a well-regarded metal well-being test and discovered a digital "sweet-spot" that linked duration of screen-use with the individual's well-being.
The research suggests that a teenager's well-being increased as their screen-time increased, until a certain point where screen usage could begin to be associated with decreased well-being. Those "sweet spots" of peak screen usage and well-being were found to be, on a weekday, "about 1 hours and 40 minutes of video-game play, about 1 hour 57 minutes of smartphone use, about 3 hours and 41 minutes of watching videos, and about 4 hours and 17 minutes of using computers."
Weekend use of digital devices showed even higher tipping points allowing for longer screen-time uses before detrimental effects were identified.
While the study is narrow in limiting its perspective to the specific correlation between screen-time and well-being for a targeted age bracket, it does suggest there is some benefit to allowing adolescents a degree of digital engagement. The study also strongly indicates the potential of negative psychological effects when digital screen-usage is limited.
Of course, how much is too much is the eternal question.
A Cambridge University study from 2015 noted a strong correlation between too much screen time and falling grades. That study established an average of four hours of non-educational screen time (computer, TV or video games) per day and found a significant drop in student's grades for every hour past that mark regardless of whether equivalent time was spent on homework or not.
Przybylski concludes of course, that much more work needs to be done to investigate the complexities in the effects of digital screen time on young people, but future studies could do better to incorporate the benefits of digital engagement.