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Screen time has little impact on teens’ mental health, study says

Worried about your child’s screen time? Well, you may not need to, because, according to a new report, your child’s time in front of a screen has little influence on their well-being.

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Researchers from the University of Oxford recently conducted a study, published in Psychological Science, to explore how screen time, such as spending time online, gaming or watching TV, affects teenagers’ mental health.

To do so, they gathered information from more than 17,000 teens across the United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland. They used self-reported data and time-use diaries to determine how much time the adolescents spent on screens per day, and they evaluated their well-being by examining their psychosocial functioning, self-esteem and mood.

After analyzing the results, they found little evidence to support a relationship between screen time and well-being on weekends and weekdays. They discovered using digital screens for two hours, one hour or 30 minutes before bed didn’t have “clear associations” with a decline of mental health among teens.

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“While psychological science can be a powerful tool for understanding the link between screen use and adolescent well-being, it still routinely fails to supply stakeholders and the public with high-quality, transparent, and objective investigations into growing concerns about digital technologies,” coauthor Amy Orben said in a statement. “We found little clear-cut evidence that screen time decreases adolescent well-being, even if the use of digital technology occurs directly before bedtime.”

The team noted that their study is unlike others of its kind, because they collected data from three different countries. They also said they publicly documented the analyses they ran before reviewing the data, which “prevents hypothesizing after the results are known, a challenge for controversial research topics.”

“To retain influence and trust, robust and transparent research practices will need to become the norm—not the exception,” said Andrew Przybylski, director of research at the OII and coauthor on the study. “We hope our approach will set a new baseline for new research on the psychological study of technology.”

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