Screen time, even before bed, has little impact on teenagers

Credit: Rebecca Enright/Art Editor Credit: Rebecca Enright/Art Editor

Screens have become an integral part of our lives. Our phones and computers serve a variety of purposes, from browsing the internet, text messaging, and sending Snapchats to completing homework assignments, programming, and playing video games. Often, we spend more time looking at screens than anything else in our day. This is troubling, since it’s been widely accepted that excessive screen time is somehow bad for our mental health as young people.

Folk wisdom like this, however, tends to lose to empirical science. According to a recent study published in Psychological Science, an analysis of over 17,000 teenagers showed little evidence of a relationship between screen time and well-being, contrary to popular belief. Not only does the total screen time have little impact on an individual’s well-being, but the study also found that engaging with a screen anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours before bedtime had no significant effect. While investigating the teen-technology relationship is not a novel concept, this study stands apart in its rigorous attempts towards ensuring the validity of its results. Not only did the researchers incorporate data from the U.S., Ireland, and the U.K., it also considered both self-reported data and measured time-use data. Furthermore, the researchers preregistered their study, making their intended analyses publicly known before conducting them, in order to avoid any controversy of retrospective hypothesizing.

The study comes at an important time, as the U.K. is preparing to release a new white paper on Online Harms targeting social media companies and their impacts on the well-being of their users. Even beyond the U.K., in a time when technology is everywhere, it is important to consider the implications of proximity between people and machines, and how to ensure that we derive the maximum benefits while incurring minimal harms. Furthermore, the study only focuses on the amount of time that individuals spend interacting with screens, meaning that the specific content consumed was not considered.

Although the study suggests that browsing the internet on your laptop for hours on end probably won’t degrade your mental well-being, we can still agree that that is probably not healthy. At a school that prides itself on its rigorous work ethic and can-do attitude, it’s important to remember to step away from the computer screen from time to time and get a breath of fresh air. Pittsburgh’s weather is usually nothing to boast about, but with spring coming into full bloom, taking a quick stroll around campus or even just stepping outside isn’t such a bad idea.