A study of more than 17,000 teenagers – including more than 5,000 in Ireland – showed little correlation between screen time before bed and poor mental health.
In what will no doubt be a controversial finding for parents, a research team from Ireland, the UK and the US is claiming that the amount of time teenagers spend looking at any kind of screen before bed is not as bad for their mental health as previously thought.
Publishing its findings in Psychological Science, the international research team said that it had found “little evidence for substantial negative associations between digital screen engagement and adolescent wellbeing”.
The study encompassed more than 17,000 teenagers from Ireland, the UK and the US, and found that the use of digital screens – ranging from 30 minutes to two hours before sleeping – didn’t have clear associations with decreases in their wellbeing.
The methodology involved charting how much time they spend looking at a screen per day, both through monitoring and self-reporting. The research team said this was important because other similar studies are based solely on self-reported digital technology use, even though recent work found only one-third of participants give accurate accounts of how much time they spend online when asked afterwards.
The researchers were also able to create a comprehensive picture of teens’ wellbeing, examining measures of psychosocial functioning, depression symptoms, self-esteem and mood, with data provided by both young people and their caregivers.
“While psychological science can be a powerful tool for understanding the link between screen use and adolescent wellbeing, it still routinely fails to supply stakeholders and the public with high-quality, transparent and objective investigations into growing concerns about digital technologies,” said Prof Andrew Przybylski, director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford.
He later added: “To retain influence and trust, robust and transparent research practices will need to become the norm, not the exception. We hope our approach will set a new baseline for new research on the psychological study of technology.”
The Irish portion of the study – containing data from 5,363 teenagers – was provided under the Government-backed ‘Growing Up in Ireland’ study and carried out by the Economic and Social Research Institute and Trinity College Dublin.