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Are you worried about teenagers and screen time?

31 July 2017 - Dr Jan Orman

Teenagers and Screen Time

Questions exist in the minds of most parents and carers about their teenagers’ use of digital technology.

How much is too much? Are some sorts of screens and some sorts of activities more of a problem than others? Does it depend on the time of day the screens are watched, the day of the week, whether other life activities are completed before or after screen time? Is there any benefit in screen-based activity?

What’s so bad about digital activity anyway? Are we concerned about it because it supplants other activity like exercise, reading, hobbies and social activity or is it intrinsically harmful?

The research

In a study, published in January 2017 in the Journal Psychological Science , Andrew Przybylski from Oxford University and Netta Weinstein form Cardiff University looked at quantifying the relationship between digital screen use and mental wellbeing in adolescents. Click here to read the journal article

In studying 120,115 English 15 year olds they found that “The effect on well-being varies depending the type of medium or device: TV and movies, video games, computers and smartphones, as well as the day of the week (weekday versus weekend)” and that optimal exposure is around 1 to 2 hours on weekdays but can be longer on the weekends.

In terms of the various types of devices it seems that at 15 video-game play is the worst for your mental health, followed by smart phone use, watching videos and using computers for recreational purposes in order of decreasing harmfulness.

The researchers concluded that “moderate use of digital technology is not intrinsically harmful and may be advantageous in a connected world” but that after a certain critical point the effect becomes detrimental rather than beneficial.

Implications and getting help

All this suggests that parents and carers still need to be vigilant about restricting the time spent using digital technology but also aware that a little screen time is actually beneficial rather than detrimental to teenagers’ mental health.

If you need some help with this issue click the links below from the Reach Out Australia’s site for parents, they have a number of helpful handouts on this and related subjects including:

Dr Jan Orman
Dr Jan Orman

Jan is Sydney GP, private psychological medicine practitioner in Sydney’s inner west and a GP educator for Black Dog Institute.

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