The research looked at young teens on their smartphones to check if more time spent on digital technology was associated with worse results for mental health. Researchers –-Candice Odgers, University of California Professor of Psychology, Irvine; Michaeline Jensen, University of North Carolina Associate Professor of Psychology, Greensboro: Madeleine George, University Purdue Researcher; and Michael Russell, State Pennsylvania University Assistant Professor of Behavioral Health — have discovered little or no proof.
“It may be time for adults to stop arguing if smartphones and social media are useful or harmful for the mental health of teenagers and to begin to find methods of better supporting them both offline and online,” said Odgers.
“We don’t see much support for the concept that time spent on telephones and online is linked to an increase in the danger of mental health issues,” says Jensen, who believes that smartphones and social network are harmful to the mental health of adolescents.
The research examined over 2,000 young people and then monitored almost 400 adolescents repeatedly on their smartphones for two weeks intensively. The study’s teens aged 10-15 were economically and racially diverse young people attending government colleges in North Carolina.
Three times a day, the scientists gathered accounts of adolescent mental health symptoms and reported every night their daily use of technology. They questioned whether young people who were more involved in digital technology would experience symptoms later on and whether adolescents spent more time on digital technology for a wider range of applications were also days when mental illnesses were more prevalent. There was no link to poor mental health for the increased use of digital technology in both cases.
When associations were noted, they were tiny and in reverse direction, as all latest concerns over digital technology were anticipated to damage the mental health of adolescents. For example, young people who reported more text messages over the course of the research actually felt better (less depressed) than teenagers with lower-frequency texts.
Peter Beaumont is a senior reporter on the Guardian’s Global Development desk. He has reported extensively from conflict zones including Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East and is the author of The Secret Life of War: Journeys Through Modern Conflict. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org