Too Much Screen Time Adversely Impacting Teenagers?

We keep hearing about how teenagers have gone inward. They spend more and more time staring into their televisions, computers and handheld devices. Indeed, they can be online practically anywhere, anytime. We have been told that the failure of teens to engage as much in the real world around them is having negative affects, with increasing rates of depression and anxiety, as well as heightened risks of self harm and harm inflicted on others.

But are the reported risks and impacts of increased screen time by teenagers actually based in fact? Not so much, according to a recent study by Oxford University in the journal Psychological Science and as reported by The Guardian. The bottom line conclusion of the study is that screen time has very little correlation to the psychological well-being of teenagers. Surprised? Read on.

The Oxford study examined the screen habits of in excess of 17,000 teenagers living in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. The study revealed that screen use before bedtime is wholly uncorrelated to psychological well-being. The study further demonstrated that general screen time has a “minuscule” impact on teen welfare as compared to other adolescent activities.

The authors of the Oxford study, Amy Orben and Andrew Przybylski, assert the importance of analyzing the affects of screen use on teen mental health and state that the results of their study improves upon prior “unreliable” studies. They suggest that their employed methodologies better capture true teen screen use and impacts; and obviously, the results of the Oxford study paint a less grim picture than previously understood. The point of the Oxford study is to serve up facts rather than prior opinions.

It is important to note and emphasize that the Oxford study examines the impact of screen time alone. It does not delve into the potential negative impacts of specific types of content available to teens online. Apart from screen time in and of itself, a number of mental health professionals believe that dangerous online content can indeed harm the well-being of teenagers. There are many examples of dangerous online content — from violent content, to inappropriate forms of pornography, to specific internet bullying.

And even when addressing screen time alone, numerous parents as a matter of preference believe that their teenagers should move away from their screens, engage with people face to face, get outside, move their bodies in athletic endeavors, and also enjoy nature.

Undoubtedly, there will be more studies examining the impact of online technology and its affects on youth. The high-tech train is out of the station, and we need to appreciate fully where the train is going so that we can guide teenagers as best we can.

Eric Sinrod (@EricSinrod on Twitter) is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. You can read his professional biography here. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod’s columns, please email him atejsinrod@duanemorris.com with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s law firm or its individual partners.