The researchers examined playing video games, watching television, browsing the internet and other recreational screen time, as well as participating in outdoor extracurricular activities such as sport and art programs after school. They then compared its association with positive and negative mental health indicators.
Highlights of the study’s findings include:
- Adolescents who participated in extracurricular activities were significantly less likely to engage in recreational screen-based activities for two or more hours after school
- Taking part in extracurricular activities was associated with higher levels of life satisfaction and optimism, and lower levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms
- Longer screen time (more than two hours a day) was associated with lower levels of life satisfaction and optimism, and higher levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms
- Differences among boys and girls, with longer screen time negatively affecting girls' mental health more significantly than boys
- Among both boys and girls, however, mental health was strongest when teens both participated in extracurricular activities and spent less than two hours on screen time
“We do know that some forms of screen time can be beneficial, like maintaining connections with friends and family members online if we cannot see them in person, but there are other types of screen time that can be quite harmful,” Oberle said. “There are many nuances that are not well understood yet and that are important to explore.”
She also said more research is needed to find out why the negative effects were more detrimental for girls than for boys.
The full study was published in the journal Preventive Medicine.