Less screen time means better mental health in teens

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According to the study published in the medical journal JAMA, the more teens check social media and stream video, the more likely they might develop symptoms of ADHD.

Study also finds extracurricular participation was associated with better mental health

A new study has found that teens who spend fewer than two hours a day of recreational screen time had higher levels of optimism and lower levels of anxiety and depression, especially among girls.

Similarly, participation in extracurricular activities was associated with better mental health outcomes.

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“Although we conducted this study before the COVID-19 pandemic, the findings are especially relevant now when teens may be spending more time in front of screens in their free time if access to extracurricular activities, like sports and arts programs, is restricted due to COVID-19,” said the study’s lead author Eva Oberle, assistant professor with the Human Early Learning Partnership in the University of British Columbia School of Population and Public Health.

“Our findings highlight extracurricular activities as an asset for teens' mental wellbeing. Finding safe ways for children and teens to continue to participate in these activities during current times may be a way to reduce screen time and promote mental health and wellbeing," she said.

For this study, the researchers compiled data from a population-level survey involving 28,712 seventh-graders from 365 schools in 27 school districts across British Columbis.

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.

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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.

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