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Researchers find screen time doesn’t impact teen mental health

Research on more than 17,000 teens has found little evidence of a relationship between screen time and adolescent well-being.

You can see the research online.

Previous research had found that teens who spent a lot of time in front of a screen, particularly just before going to bed, suffered more mental issues.

The researchers wanted to quantify this, so they used two methods – self reporting and time-use diaries – on a sample of teens from three different nationalities, Irish, American and British.

Self reporting can be less than reliable – the majority of people don’t accurately describe how much time they spend in front of a screen.

Time-use diaries solve this problem by having people record their usage every 10 minutes, so you get a more accurate grasp of just how much people are using things like the Internet.

Its something that has been used in smaller studies, and this is apparently the first time they’ve been used at this scale.

And what they revealed was – nothing much.

“The most negative associations were found when both self-reported technology use and well-being measures were used, and this could be a result of common method variance or noise found in such large-scale questionnaire data,” the researchers wrote.

What that means is that, in order to find harm one would have to take the less reliable form of measuring screen time, and even then the effect wasn’t big enough to say it was really real.

My Take

I enjoy videogames. In fact part of what I’d like for our country is more gamer politicians.

This is because I play a lot of Magic The Gathering: Arena, and that game has some lessons for our leadership embedded in it – namely that if you have a good card and the other player has a good combination of cards, the other player will often win.

This is how I spotted in the EFF’s manifesto that they effectively ban foreigners from living in South Africa. Their policies, when played together, do things that I’m not sure they’re really aware of.

Similarly when I look at our current government, one of the frustrations I have is that the various organs of state don’t really play together, so they’re less effective than they otherwise could be.

But anyway, I enjoy videogames – and the latest research into it has found no link with aggression according to gamesindustry.biz.

And I think it is the same issue with screen time in general – there has always been this element of panic around new media, initially low quality research has been used to back that, and as the research carries on it turns out that its all nonsense.

Far too much in the way of critique of various entertainment media has been founded on a fear that if we look at a game, or a movie or a song and it has objectionable elements this will inform society. The idea is basically monkey see, monkey do.

The thing is we’re not monkeys, we’re humans, we can distinguish between reality and fantasy, so a lot of these fears kind of fall apart when you look at the real world.

But still we get social critiques which try to push this idea that bad media leads to bad society – and I think a part of that is that when we care about things, we want those things to matter more than they really do.

We want screen time to impact mental health because then we can argue more effectively that what’s on the screen matters.

But this isn’t necessary to say that a more inclusive approach to story telling would improve something. I think the argument is more powerful if it isn’t overstated, if we stick to what we can show rather than postulating things beyond that.

Take the last Zelda game, Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Zelda earns her place as the titular character in that game. In a lot of ways it inverts the usual dynamic – where Zelda is kidnapped and imprisoned by Gannon and needs rescuing by the player.

Instead Zelda is the one who has imprisoned Gannon, fighting him to a standstill for 100 years, and Link is there to tilt the balance in her favour.

That is an illustration of how feminism can improve a story – because now she’s not a boring, passive character, and it doesn’t mean anything beyond a better story that this is the case.

If you take the feminist critique as calling for better rounded, less cliche female characters who have the same degree of interests in them as male characters, then that’s very hard to argue against because better characters will always improve a work.

Start pushing the idea that this is something more than that and you get a big fight because that data used to back that up is often very dodgy, and contradicted by higher quality studies.

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