Study: Your teen’s smartphone use isn’t causing as much mental health harm as you think

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Yes, playing with a tiny screen all day seems unnatural. But a new study of 400 teenagers has found scant evidence associating excessive smartphone use and adverse mental health outcomes. The findings are published in Clinical Psychological Science.

“It may be time for adults to stop arguing over whether smartphones and social media are good or bad for teens’ mental health and start figuring out ways to best support them in both their offline and online lives,” said Candice Odgers, professor of psychological science at the University of California, Irvine.

The study surveyed over 2,000 adolescents and then tracked a subsample of nearly 400 teenagers on their smartphones multiple times a day for two weeks by pinging their phones with questions. The adolescents in the study were between 10- and 15-years-old and both economically and racially diverse.

phone use study

Researchers took reports of mental health symptoms from the study participants three times a day. They also reported the amount of technology they used for that day. Increased use of digital technology was not found to be related to worse mental health.

“Contrary to the common belief that smartphones and social media are damaging adolescents’ mental health, we don’t see much support for the idea that time spent on phones and online is associated with increased risk for mental health problems,” said Michaeline Jensen, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Previous findings

A study from last April researchers at Oxford University, published in the journal Psychological Science, came to similar conclusions. In short, all the effects of all that texting, Instagramming, and Snapchatting on teenagers’ well-being are “minuscule.” It didn’t matter how many hours per day the teenagers used screens – the impact on their mental health was still minimal.

What are teens doing on their phones, exactly?

It’s pretty harmless, according to research from the Pew Research Center. The vast majority are using it to pass the time (90%.) Others use it to connect with other people (84%) or learn new things (83%).