According to a new study published in Clinical Psychological Science, there is little evidence that teenage digital technology usage is associated with elevated mental-health symptoms.
A team of researchers examined whether 388 adolescents’ digital technology use was associated with mental-health symptoms during early adolescence to midadolescence.
The research team consisted of Candice Odgers, professor of psychological science at the University of California, Irvine; Michaeline Jensen, assistant professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro; Madeleine George, postdoctoral researcher at Purdue University; and Michael Russell, assistant professor of behavioral health at Pennsylvania State University.
The researchers collected reports of mental health symptoms from the adolescent participants three times a day and also reported on their daily technology usage each night.
According to the abstract of the study, “Adolescents completed an initial Time 1 (T1) assessment in 2015, followed by a 14-day ecological momentary assessment (EMA) via mobile phone in 2016–2017 that yielded 13,017 total observations over 5,270 study days.”
The team found that adolescents’ technology use in the initial assessment did not predict later mental-health symptoms.
In addition, mental health was not found to be worse on days that the teenagers reported spending more time using technology. Participants at higher risk for mental-health problems didn’t show signs of increased risk for mental-health problems on days they spent more time on technology.
“It may be time for adults to stop arguing over whether smartphones and social media are good or bad for teens’ mental health and start figuring out ways to best support them in both their offline and online lives,” said co-author Candice Odgers, professor of psychological science at the University of California, Irvine.
Michaeline Jensen, assistant professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, commented:
“Contrary to the common belief that smartphones and social media are damaging adolescents’ mental health, we don’t see much support for the idea that time spent on phones and online is associated with increased risk for mental health problems.”
The abstract of the study concluded: “Findings from this EMA study do not support the narrative that young adolescents’ digital technology usage is associated with elevated mental-health symptoms.”
A video walk-through of the findings from Jensen, George, Russell, & Odgers’ 2019 paper:
“Young Adolescents’ Digital Technology Use and Adolescents’ Mental Health Symptoms: Little Evidence of Longitudinal or Daily Linkages”
Michaeline Jensen, Madeleine J. George, Michael R. Russell, Candice L. Odgers
Clinical Psychological Science
First Published August 20, 2019