Frontline Medical News


The moderate use of digital technology is not intrinsically harmful for adolescents and may be good for their mental well-being.

Those are the results of a study of 120,115 adolescents from the United Kingdom’s Department for Education National Pupil Database who were asked to complete questionnaires about their mental well-being and digital screen time, reported Andrew K. Przybylski, PhD, of the University of Oxford (England), and Netta Weinstein, PhD, of Cardiff (Wales) University.

The researchers began the study using what they called the “digital Goldilocks hypothesis.”

“In the fairy tale, Goldilocks identifies moderation (in porridge and beds) as ‘just right,’ ” they said. “Similarly, it might be that ‘too little’ tech use deprives young people of important social information and peer pursuits, whereas ‘too much’ may displace other meaningful activities. Our Goldilocks hypothesis postulates that there are empirically derivable balance points, moderate levels, that are ‘just right’ for optimally connected young people” (Psychol Sci. 2017 Jan 1. doi: 10.1177/0956797616678438 ).

At the beginning of the study, Dr. Przybylski, Dr. Weinstein, and their team asked 15-year-olds from across England to complete the Warick-Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Scale , a 14-item self-report that seeks to measure factors such as happiness, life satisfaction, and psychological and social functioning. Meanwhile, the adolescents’ screen time was assessed through four questions asking about “watching films and other media, playing games, and using computers, and smartphones.”

About 20% of the participants reported a sum of more than 12 hours of digital engagement on weekdays, and 35% of the sample reported a total of more than 12 hours on weekend days. Girls reported spending more time using smartphones, using computers, and watching videos, and the boys devoted more time to playing computer and console games. Smartphones, however, were used more often daily among both girls and boys, Dr. Przybylski and Dr. Weinstein said.

After comparing the well-being and screen time data, the reseachers found that “the relations between screen time and mental well-being were either positive (P less than or equal to .001) or flat (P greater than .183), except for a negative link in the case of weekend smartphone use,” they said.

The investigators said their findings inform current guidelines that seek to limit adolescents’ technology use. “Future research and recommendations building on the Goldilocks hypothesis would be sensitive to the various types and contexts of media use and would be based on peaks and drops in well-being as well as other meaningful outcomes identified systematically,” they wrote.

Dr. Przybylski and Dr. Weinstein reported that they had no conflicts of interest to disclose.


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