GoggleBox: Moderate Screen Use 'Boosts Teen Wellbeing'

A study of screen time and mental wellbeing among teenagers has suggested moderate use of devices may be beneficial in a connected world. The researchers collected self-reported data from 120,000 English 15-year-olds about their digital device habits.

They found a "Goldilocks effect" where a few hours of device-use seemed to boost mental wellbeing.

One developmental psychologist welcomed the paper but said there was still room for more study.

"Moderate engagement in digital activities is not harmful," notes the paper. In addition, the first hour or two of screen time was actually associated with an increase in mental wellbeing for those using computers, smartphones, video games and watching TV or films.

The Goldilocks effect:

  • Weekday use with a positive effect on wellbeing was described as follows:
  • Playing video games: One hour 40 minutes
  • Using a smartphone: One hour 57 minutes
  • Watching TV and films: Three hours 41 minutes
  • Using computers: Four hours 17 minutes
  • The effect was boosted at weekends, with the peak lasting up to four hours and 50 minutes when watching TV.

However, after this point a negative effect was reported.

The  Goldilocks effect" - refers to the version of the fairy story in which Goldilocks discovers, for instance, that the best porridge is neither too hot nor too cold.

Young people's screen time has increased with the rise of digital devices used at home. For example, children, including pre-schooler’s aged three and four, are spending eight hours and 18 minutes a week online on average, according to a recent report by Ofcom.

Their research stemmed from a larger survey about the habits of nearly 300,000 English 15-year-olds, explained co-author Andrew Przybylski at the University of Oxford.

"We found that the negative effect of screen time was about a third of the size as not getting regular sleep or a regular breakfast," he told the BBC. But Dr Przybylski acknowledged that most children don't simply use one device during the day - and in fact often use more than one concurrently, such as when texting a friend while watching TV.

Choose your Battles

He suggested that rather than totting up screen time and demanding that children stop using a device after a certain point, it might be more beneficial to negotiate longer sessions and suggest alternative activities when appropriate.

"It's not so much that it's bad for a kid to play Minecraft for 12 hours on a Sunday, it's that as parents we often don't have a valued activity that we put in place of that," he said. "It's much more important that the parents focus their limited attention and resources on picking smart battles - that might be more important than having an arbitrary cut-off."

In 2013, a Public Health England briefing paper warned that too much time in front of screens combined with a sedentary lifestyle was harming children's wellbeing and increasing their anxiety.

"A few simple steps, like regular physical activity and spending time together as a family at breakfast and dinner, can minimise young people's screen time and support their wellbeing," said Eustace de Sousa at Public Health England, reacting to today's research.

BBC:   

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