Researchers find that “moderate” screen use is OK for teens

Parents rejoice! Researchers have found that “moderate” screen use “has no detectable link to well-being and levels of engagement.” This means your kids can play on the iPad for a few hours — but not all of them.

The study, led by psychological scientist Andrew Przybylski of the University of Oxford, examined the habits of 12,000 British teens, found that “the relationship between screen time and well-being is weak at best.” The self-reported data asked teens about their measure of mental well-being as well as assessed their digital activities. This including gaming, TV, and social media.

“When we looked at the existing literature as scientists, and parents, we saw an area rich in opinions but short on evidence. We were surprised how poorly linked the literature was to the advice provided to caregivers and educators,” said Przybylski.

The key, said researchers, is to find the sweet spot between high and low technology use. The teens who used technology without overdoing it at the expense of other activities actually benefited from the connectivity.

“Teens’ well-being increased as their screen time increased, up to a certain point,” wrote the researchers. “After that point, increased screen time was associated with decreased well-being.” Interestingly the researchers also concluded that the overall risks are small in any case but it is worth parents’ time to focus on finding and enforcing the sweet spot instead of banning it outright or allowing unfettered access.

“There is good reason to think that parents really struggle to meet stringent professional guidance on screen time,” he said. “Our work confirms that policy guidance on digital screens should be based on work that test explicit hypotheses about possible technology effects.”

The research will appear in Psychological Science, the journal of the Association for Psychological Science. Just don’t tell your teens.