Many parents have heard warnings about the dangers of too much screen time for their kids. In particular, research indicates that depression and anxiety in teenagers may be linked to screen time.
But a new study indicates that not all screen time is the same—and one form of screen time may actually be good for teens.
The Dangers of Social Media & Television
A new study conducted by researchers at Montreal’s Sainte-Justine Hospital and published in JAMA Pediatrics investigated the relationship between depression and exposure to different forms of screen time. Researchers studied the behavior of over 3,800 students over a six-year period from grade 7 to grade 11. The teenagers self-reported the number of hours per week that they consumed social media (such as Facebook and Instagram), video games, and television.
The researchers learned that not all kinds of digital screen time had the same effect on teenagers. According to the study’s lead researcher Patricia Conrod, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Montreal, the negative effects of social media were much greater than any other types of digital screen time.
Conrod and her team found an increase in depressive symptoms when the adolescents consumed social media and television.
The study found that of all the forms of screen time, consuming social media can be the most harmful. Increased symptoms of depression were linked to being active on platforms such as Instagram, where teens are more likely to compare their own lives to the glamorous images in their feeds. According to Conrod, social media did more to expose young people to images that promote upward social comparison and made them feel bad about themselves.
“These sort of echo chambers—these reinforcing spirals—also continually expose them to things that promote or reinforce their depression. That’s why it’s particularly toxic for depression,” Conrod told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Researchers also tested to see teenagers who reported greater screen time spent less time on other activities that might decrease depressive symptoms, such as exercise. But it found that was not the case. It seems that too much social media is unhealthy no matter what.
The Positive Impact of Video Games
But the most surprising finding for researchers was that time spent playing video games did not contribute to depressive symptoms.
Many parents worry about the negative effects of the amount of time spent, primarily by teenage boys, playing video games. But are video games unhealthy? The study suggests the average gamer is not socially isolated, with more than 70% of gamers playing with other people either online or in person.
According to the study leaders, these findings were surprising. “Video gaming makes one more happy. It’s a good pastime.” Apparently, Facebook is worse than video games in many situations.
Though depression can be debilitating at any age, adolescents dealing with depression are at greater risk for substance use, lower self-esteem, and poor interpersonal skills.
According to the study, teens are spending an average of six to seven hours in front of a digital screen every day. Although researchers indicate that these findings for teens with depression need further investigation, setting limits on screen time—at least certain types—seems well-advised.