Screen time and well-being – new research & guidance

In the first week of 2019, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) published new guidance on the health impact of screen time for young people. In compiling the review, 109 young people aged 11-24 were consulted across the UK. On average, they reported using a computer or tablet for around two and a half hours, spending three hours on their phones and watching two hours of tv on a typical day. While this snapshot of screen use is in itself interesting, we must remember that 109 is a small sample, and the data were taken from self reports. Self report data is often unreliable and certainly one of the least objective measures.

In general, the message from the report is reassuring in regards to the impact of screen time. The report states that the contribution of screen time to well-being is small in comparison with the much more important factors of “sleep, physical activity, eating, bullying and poverty”.  These findings chime with a recent analysis on a very large sample (N=355,358), examining the relationship between screens and adolescent well-being.  Amy Orben and Andrew Przybylski demonstrate that in very large datasets, a researcher can pick and choose the results that best fit with a certain hypothesis. When considering screen time, this has often been of the “screens are killing a generation” variety.  In Orben & Przybylski, the authors show that when considering a large number of factors in their dataset, in fact the need to wear eyeglasses or the behaviour of eating potatoes was nearly as strongly negatively associated with wellbeing as technology use.  This and other research now emerging, clearly show that while screen time needs to be approached with care, the threat of technology to young people’s well-being, has often been overblown in the media.


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