Screen Time May Not Be So Bad for Teens After All

FRIDAY, Jan. 20, 2017 (HealthDay News) — Teens who log hours of screen time every day — on video games, smartphones, computers, TV and the like — may not be doing themselves any harm, a new study suggests.

A digital “sweet spot” of screen time might even benefit teens’ well-being by allowing them to develop social connections and personal skills, according to the findings.

“Moderate levels of daily screen time do not appear to be harmful,” said lead researcher Andrew Przybylski. He is an experimental psychologist with the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford. “In fact, even excessive levels of screen time appear unlikely to have significant negative effect.”

However, several child health experts said they weren’t ready to blindly embrace the new study’s conclusions that too much screen time may not be too much of a good thing.

The research included more than 120,000 teenagers in the United Kingdom.

The study authors said the teens’ mental well-being tended to peak in one of these daily scenarios:

  • Playing video games for about 1 hour and 40 minutes,
  • Fooling with their smartphone for about 1 hour and 57 minutes,
  • Watching videos for about 3 hours and 41 minutes,
  • Using computers for about 4 hours and 17 minutes.

“We speculate that moderate screen use might reflect active social lives, playing games to relieve stress, or expressing oneself artistically online,” Przybylski said.

To test their self-named “digital Goldilocks hypothesis,” the researchers reviewed national U.K. data from 15-year-olds regarding both their mental well-being and the time they spend in front of a screen.

The investigators found that more screen time did not automatically lead to worse well-being. In fact, teens could flourish even after hours of daily exposure to screen time, the researchers said.

“Our findings suggest that adolescents’ moderate screen use has no detectable link to well-being, and levels of engagement above these points are modestly correlated with well-being,” Przybylski said.

Dr. Megan Moreno said the study findings “align” with teen media use policies released last year by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). She is one of the authors of the AAP report on media use and an adolescent pediatrician with Seattle Children’s Hospital.

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