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13 October 2020

Digital technology can be both good and bad for teens

Many people are concerned about the negative effects of digital technology, especially on young people. A review of research published in the Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience investigates the impact of digital technology use on teens' well-being. It turns out that the effects of digital technology are not so much determined by the degree of use in general, but more by the type of technology used and the context in which it is used.

Take aways

  • Overall, the impact of digital technology use on teens' well-being is negative, but very small -- potentially too small to matter.
  • Digital technology use can also have positive effects on teens’ well-being.
  • Not all digital technology use is created equal; different uses lead to different effects.

Study information

  • Who?

    A review of over 50 scientific studies focusing on the impact of digital technology on the well-being of teens.

  • Where?

    Different world regions, including Europe, Asia and the United States of America.

  • How?

    The researchers collected studies from established digital literature databases, using search terms such as “adolescents”, “digital technology”, and “wellbeing”.

Facts and findings

  • Digital technology most likely has small, short-term effects on teens’ well-being (for example, life satisfaction).
  • The effects of digital technology differ according to the type of use:
    • Teens who use digital technology passively (for example, lurking and watching the content of others) or for reasons of procrastination (for example, delaying or postponing a task) also experience lower well-being.
    • Teens who use digital technology actively (for example, posting, liking, and sharing content) or for social reasons (for example, chatting and texting with others) also experience higher well-being.
  • There might be an optimum to feel good: Using digital technology excessively can be bad, but so can using digital technology too little.
  • Teens are potentially more vulnerable than adults to the effects of digital technology. But many teens have well-developed media literacy skills and can decide for themselves how to use digital technology. Patronizing teens will only make the problem worse. Treating young people as innocent victims of technology takes away from their agency to use media the way they feel is good for them.
  • Critical note: The research included in this review suffers from many shortcomings. For example, many rely on small samples with low-quality measures. Larger samples are needed to be able to draw more robust inferences.