Is teen mental health linked to smartphone use?

Posted Aug 29, 2019 by Tim Sandle
A new study of 400 teenagers finds little evidence connecting excessive smartphone use and mental health issues affecting young people. This contradicts the common belief that smartphones and social media are damaging adolescents' mental health
Teens sharing earphones  listening to music.
Teens sharing earphones, listening to music.
SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget (CC BY 2.0)
The research, from University of California - Irvine, finds that that the amount of time that adolescents are spending on their smartphones and online in general is not associated with significant mental health issues. The study examined young people who use smartphones regularly, in order to assess whether more time spent using digital technology was connected to a deterioration in mental health outcomes.
The survey began with 2,000 young people; this was then reduced down to subset of 400 teenagers. The young people were aged between 10 and 15 years old and they represented the people from households of different economic status, and they were drawn from different ethnic groups.
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Each participant in the study was asked to fill out a questionnaire three times per day. The data was correlated against technology use, in times of time of use and period of use. This revealed that an increased digital technology use did not correlate with worse mental health. Furthermore, there was some evidence that online activity helped to reduce feelings of depression in some cases.
The following video shows more about the study:
Commenting on the research, lead scientist Professor Candice Odgers states: "It may be time for adults to stop arguing over whether smartphones and social media are good or bad for teens' mental health and start figuring out ways to best support them in both their offline and online lives."
However, a U.K. report titled "Age appropriate design: a code of practice for online services", recommends limiting social media use and banning certain activities, such as the 'like' function for Facebook and Instagram due to associations with mental health issues with young people.
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The research has been published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, with the research paper headed "Young Adolescents’ Digital Technology Use and Adolescents’ Mental Health Symptoms: Little Evidence of Longitudinal or Daily Linkages."
Similar research, reported by Digital Journal and coming form the The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) in the U.K. fund that the amount of time spent on electronic devices (‘screen time’) by children is not necessarily harmful to mental health provided that the devices are turned off an hour before bedtime.