Just like your teen’s dramatic eye roll or stomping out of the room, the negative effects of too much screen time for your teen could be exaggerated. A recent study determined that the negative link between adolescent well-being and digital technology use was less than half of one percent. And while there are still solid health reasons for limiting screen time, helicopter parents should be able to stop panicking about the impact of Facebook and even handheld video games. Here are details of the study that will make gamers and their folks have to find new issues to argue about:
How Flexible Analytics Have Vilified Screen Time
Scientists at the University of Oxford published their screen time findings in the January Nature Human Behaviour. They addressed the association between fairly widely-defined adolescent well-being and the overuse of digital technology. In the abstract, the researchers indicated they’d be going after previous studies that included empirical evidence with too much analytical flexibility for their taste. The Oxford scientists decried that approach to data analysis, saying it risked “false positives” on screen-time negatives ranging from teen depression to increased violence.
Oxford experimental psychologist Andrew Przybylski co-authored the paper with his graduate student Amy Orben, and they specifically set out to counterbalance contradict previous studies that took small effects quick to catch the panicking public’s attention and made them statistically significant. “We’re trying to move from this mindset of cherry-picking one result to a more holistic picture of the data set,” Przybylski told Scientific American. “A key part of that is being able to put these extremely minuscule effects of screens on young people in real-world context.”
A New Set Of Standards
To overcome the challenges of the data-set methods that focus on one small finding that’s easy to publish and publicize, the Oxford researchers used something called Specification Curve Analysis. In layman’s terms, SCA reports on the entire range of possible correlations from a given data set. It involves mapping the sum of analytic choices analysts could make when faced with quantitative data. In this situation, the researchers applied SCA to three large-scale datasets representing 350,000 adolescents.
The scientists covered a vast range of adolescent psychological health, with a measure of both emotionally-sound and depressive symptoms, peer problems, and even suicidal ideation. The Oxford researchers did find a link between screen time and adolescent well-being, and it was negative. But it was teeny, accounting for 0.4 percent of the variation of well-being. The researchers determined that such slight disadvantages of using digital technologies really don’t warrant policy change. Both social media devotees and Anthem and Mortal Kombat 11 players (and their hovering parents) can breathe a sigh of relief.
If You Really Want To Panic About Teens, Look At Bullying
In addition to findings that minimized the impact of screen time on teen’s mental health, the researchers turned up some genuine causes for concern. They noted that smoking marijuana, for example, had almost eight times more negative impact than digital technology use, at 2.7 percent. Bullying was an even more troubling negative factor in adolescent well-being, tipping the scale away from emotional soundness by a whopping 4.3 percent, 10 times more than screen time.
Here’s How Helicopter Parents Can Get Back In Action
If other examples of parental reasoning (vaccinations, for example) in the 21st century are any indication, parents may still panic over the studies that take a small bit and run with it. But even in those cases, the Oxford research can help a parent improve their child’s well-being. The researchers found that focusing on proactive health habits held far more sway over teen well-being than avoiding negatives.
Two of the most influential positive steps for teens were getting enough sleep and eating breakfast every day. Both those strategies had a much stronger association with emotional health in adolescence than any screen time or lack thereof.