Screen time
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Screen time has little impact on adolescent mental health

Researchers from the University of Oxford have recently noted that there isn’t solid evidence to conclude that the use of technology affects the well-being of individuals. The authors stated in their findings, published in Nature Human Behaviour, that “Substantial disagreements within the literature, the extent to which children’s screen-time may actually be impacting their psychological well-being remains unclear.”

Oxford University scientists Andrew K. Pryzybylski and Amy Orben examined data from over 300,000 adolescents and parents in the UK and USA. The data, collected between 2006 and 2016, was obtained from three large-scale studies – two US surveys (Monitoring the Future and Youth Risks and Behaviour Studies) and the UK’s Millennium Cohort Study.

Oxford University scientists Andrew K. Pryzybylski and Amy Orben examined data from over 300,000 adolescents and parents in the UK and USA

Using a technique called specification curve analysis, the Oxford academics were able to determine the reason that no firm scientific consensus on screen use and mental health existed. Previous researchers who had looked at the issue had allowed their own biases to drive their findings. “Of the three data sets we analysed for this study, we found over 600 million possible ways to analyse the data. We calculated a large sample of these and found that – if you wanted – you could come up with a large range of positive or negative associations between technology and wellbeing, or no effect at all” said Orben. In order to remove bias and examine practical significance – as opposed to just looking at statistical significance – the researchers used information from other questions in the same dataset and could therefore successfully put the statistical findings on screen use in context.

The team showed that only 0.4% of adolescent wellbeing could be associated with technology use. Professor Pryzybylski, director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute, stated “Our findings demonstrate that screen use itself has at most a tiny association with youth mental health.” Thus, the main conclusion of the Oxford study is that the time spent by teenagers on smartphones and tablets doesn’t have a significant impact on their mental health.

The team showed that only 0.4% of adolescent wellbeing could be associated with technology use

The general public perception, Pryzybylski said, was due to the existence of a lot of misinformation and badly explained research concerning children’s technology use, thus leading parents and policymakers to assume the worst. Similarly, Orben said that researchers allowed their biases to cloud their findings and judgement – therefore leading to the general preconception of well-being and technology.

In related research conducted earlier this month, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) found evidence of increased screen time “displacing positive behaviours” such as socialising, exercising, and good sleep. However, the organisation concluded that there was not sufficient evidence to confirm that screen time directly had an impact on mental health.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) found evidence of increased screen time “displacing positive behaviours” such as socialising, exercising, and good sleep

Due to the lack of solid evidence that screen use affects mental health, the researchers have suggested that policymakers shouldn’t put forward formal proposals concerning technology and teenagers.

Dr Ben Carter, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, stated that, although the paper was “interesting”, some of the data the study used was from as far back as 2007 and did not even feature social media. In Carter’s view, “this makes it hard to relate these findings to adolescents in 2019.”

Dr Ben Carter, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, stated that, although the paper was “interesting”, some of the data the study used was from as far back as 2007 and did not even feature social media

Personally, I agree with the researchers’ findings that screen time doesn’t have a major mental health impact on individuals. Mostly, it is the type of content – be it social media feeds or getting misinformed through fake news – which can affect one’s thinking and perception.

 

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