The negative impact of technology use on teen mental health has been found to be as insignificant as any adverse effects of teens regularly eating potatoes.
Researchers from Oxford University found technology use has a miniscule negative influence on teen mental health, with just 0.4 per cent of adolescent wellbeing related to screen use.
Researchers examined data from more than 300,000 teens and parents across the UK and US, using longitudinal study results to extract information for their research.
“Our findings demonstrate that screen use itself has at most a tiny association with youth mental health,” lead researcher and Oxford Internet Institute director Professor Andrew Przybylski said.
“The 0.4 per cent contribution of screen use on young people’s mental health needs to be put in context for parents and policymakers. Within the same dataset, we were able to demonstrate that including potatoes in your diet showed a similar association with adolescent wellbeing,” Prof. Przybylski explained.
“Wearing corrective lenses had an even worse association,” he added.
He said smoking marijuana or being bullied had more significant impact on teen mental health according to study results, with an average of 2.7 times and 4.3 times more negative association than screen time respectively.
Lack of sleep and eating breakfast regularly also had much stronger associations when compared to technology use.
Researchers looked beyond statistics within the datasets used in the study and focused on practical significance of data to examine links between technology use and mental health issues among teens.
“Research’s reliance on statistical significance can yield some bizarre ‘results’,” study author and University of Oxford Queen’s College lecturer Amy Orben said.
“We need to look at the size of the association to make a judgement on practical significance. If you told me the amount of time a teenager spends on digital devices, I could not do very well predicting their overall wellbeing, as only 0.4 per cent is associated with technology use,” Ms Orben said.
“Bias and selective reporting of results is endemic to social and biological research influencing the screen time debate,” she said.
“We need to put scientific findings in context for parents, policymakers and the general public.”
Data from three large-scale studies across the UK and US from 2007-2016 were studied by the research team. Results have been published in the Nature Human Behaviour journal.