Who isn’t concerned about their kids spending too much time on smartphones and other electronic devices? Well, we can stop worrying — at least about this. Digital tech time isn’t a big factor in how well teens are doing, according to a new study from the University of Oxford.
To come to this conclusion, researchers analyzed data on 430,000 adolescents in the United Kingdom and the United States, looking at three large-scale studies done over the past 30 years. The idea was to see whether the increase in mental health issues — including suicide, depression and other emotional and behavioral problems — was connected to the recent rise in adolescents’ digital device and social media use, as it compares with television-watching by teens throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s, before cell phones and social media use took off.
“If we want to understand the relationship between tech and well-being today, we need to first go back and look at historic data — as far back as when parents were concerned too much TV would give their kids square eyes — in order to bring the contemporary concerns that we have about newer technologies into focus,” Matti Vuorre, a postdoctoral researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute and lead author of the paper, said in a statement.
The results weren’t exactly a ringing endorsement of teens’ use of digital devices, but they did show that, in general, there’s little evidence to prove an increase in digital tech use is harmful.
Despite their latest findings, the Oxford study is unlikely to be the final word on tech and teens. “As more data accumulates on adolescents’ use of emerging technologies, our knowledge of them and their effects on mental health will become more precise,” said researcher, Andrew K. Przybylski, the director of research at Oxford Internet Institute and senior author of the study.
Even if digital media use isn’t specifically jeopardizing teens' mental health, more screen time does contribute to getting less sleep and exercise, both important factors for an adolescent’s well-being.
The study is published in Clinical Psychological Science.