teenager with tablet while lying on the floor in the room
January 16, 2017

Screen time may actually be beneficial to teens, study finds

Parents have long been told to limit the amount of time their children spend watching television or playing computer games, but a new study has found that a certain amount of screen time each day isn't harmful– it might actually be helpful!

As part of their study, researchers from the Oxford University Internet Institute collected data from 120,000 UK teens about their wellbeing and the amount of time each day they spent using screen-based devices. They found that there was a so-called “sweet spot” where a few hours of device-use appeared to have a positive impact on those youngsters’ mental health.

Writing in the journal Psychological Science, Dr. Andrew Przybylski and his colleagues stated that “moderate engagement in digital activities is not harmful,” according to BBC News and the Telegraph. While the amount of time varied by activity and device, the authors said that digital connectivity may encourage creativity and improve overall communication skills.

“Use of digital technology is not intrinsically harmful and may have advantages in a connected world unless digital devices are overused or interfere with schoolwork or after school activities,” Dr. Przybylski said to the Telegraph. “Our research suggests that some connectivity is probably better than none and there are moderate levels that as in the story of Goldilocks are just right for young people.”

How much device use is the right amount?

According to BBC News, the study found that wellbeing peaked at four hours and 17 minutes of computer use per day before results started to decline while the maximum benefit for smartphone use was reached at the two-hour mark. One hour and 40 minutes was the most benefit found from playing video games, while three hours and 41 minutes was the max when it came to watching TV.

Furthermore, the research found that the first one to two hours of screen time was actually linked to an increase in mental wellbeing for those using computers or phones, playing video games, or watching television. Dr. Przybylski’s team also found that the positive impact was boosted on the weekend, with the peak lasting up nearly five hours of television viewing.

However, as the Telegraph pointed out, the study only looks at the teens’ mental wellbeing and does not take into account whether their physical health was adversely affected by spending too much time staring at screens. Previous studies have shown that too much internet use can cause brain shrinkage, cause youngsters to become too aroused by technology, or disrupt sleep patterns if used too close to bedtime, the newspaper noted.

Nonetheless, Dr. Przybylski explained in a statement that his team’s findings are important for parents and caregivers. “Our work confirms that policy guidance on digital screens should be based on work that test explicit hypotheses about possible technology effects,” he said. The data suggests that the impact of digital screen time depended on the type of activity, the study authors noted, and future studies should look at the potential benefits by level of engagement.

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