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26 January 2017

Moderate Digital-Screen Use Unrelated To Lower Mental Well-Being Among Teens

Keywords: computer, games, happiness, media, teens, Websites, Western Europe, mobile, mobile phone, social media, tablet,

Many concerns have been raised about the fact that teens spend more and more time with digital screens. A study in Psychological Science among more than 100 thousand 15-year olds investigates whether those concerns are justified. It examines the relation between teens' mental well-being and the time they spend with digital technologies, and finds no convincing support for concerns about negative effects.

Take aways

  • Moderate use of digital technologies is not related to less happiness, life satisfaction, and psychological and social functioning in teens.
  • Moderate digital-screen use may even be advantageous in our connected world, as digital technologies form avenues for communication, creativity, and development.
  • Extensive media use can be associated with negative outcomes for well-being. Various media technologies have different thresholds of maximum time spend (see Figure).

Study information

  • The question?

    How is digital-screen use linked to mental well-being in teens?

  • Who?

    120,115 English 15-year-olds approached via the National Pupil Database from the United Kingdom’s Department for Education

  • Where?

    United Kingdom, Europe

  • How?

    Participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire, including questions about their mental well-being (happiness, life satisfaction, psychological functioning, and social functioning) and the time they spend behind digital screens, for instance watching TV, playing games, using computers and/or using smartphones.

Facts and findings

  • Teens spent more time using smartphones than watching TV and movies, playing video games and using computers.
  • Up to a certain degree of screen time (= threshold), digital media use was not negatively related to teen’s mental well-being. 
  • Thus, the threshold indicates the amount of time up to which teens’ digital media use is not related to lower well-being. 
  • For teens who spent more than the threshold amount of time using digital media, lower levels of mental well-being were observed.
  • The level of the digital screen time threshold differed for the type of media and for weekdays/weekends (see Figure 1):
    • the threshold for using computers and watching video’s was higher than for playing videogames and using smartphones;
    • the threshold was higher during weekends than during weekdays, meaning that teens could use digital media longer on weekend days than on weekdays without feeling less happy or satisfied. 
  • Critical Note: As this study has exclusively focused on 15-year-olds, findings cannot be generalized to older or younger teens. Furthermore, the study cannot not provide decisive conclusions about cause and effect.