Key Research

Associations Between Screen Time and Lower Psychological Well-being Among Children and Adolescents: Evidence from a Population-Based Study

Key Takeaways:

  • Children and adolescents who spent more time using screen media were lower in psychological well-being than low users, including:  poor emotion regulation (not staying calm, arguing too much, being difficult to get along with), an inability to finish tasks, lower curiosity, and more difficulty making friends
  • High (vs. low) users were also twice as likely to have received diagnoses of depression or anxiety
  • Due to the cross-sectional design of the study, it is not possible to determine if screen time leads to low well-being, low well-being leads to screen time, or both. However, several longitudinal studies have found that increases in recreational screen time precede lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents.
  • The presence of smartphones can lower enjoyment during social interactions and that abstaining from social media use for one week can increase well-being.
  • Limiting screen time clearly has benefits. No difference between non-users and low-level (one hour a day) users; everything over an hour becomes problematic.


LiveMore ScreenLess’ Summary

While extensive screen use has been linked to lower psychological wellbeing, evidence from a 2018 study suggests that use of screens for up to 1 hour per day may in fact be beneficial. Any screen time beyond this inflection point, however, is likely detrimental to psychological wellbeing.

Even pre-pandemic screen time was at a documented high. This study found that by high school, participants spent an average of 4.35 hours per day on screens. By analyzing results from the National Survey of Children’s Health, researchers tracked various behavioral and emotional metrics with reported levels of daily screen time. Numerous indicators of poor well-being—including poor emotional regulation, an inability to finish tasks, lower curiosity, and difficulty making friends—were significantly more likely in cases of heavy screen use.

Heavy screen time (defined as 7 or more hours per day) left individuals twice as likely to experience low well-being, relative to low screen time users (1 hour per day). This association tended to have a greater effect size for adolescents than younger children, which may be influenced by the importance of social interaction and the prevalence of smartphones in adolescence. Given that the AAP’s recommendations for screen time limits only apply to children 5 years of age and younger, the authors recommend that organizations focused on public health consider extending screen time limits to preteens and teens.  

Jean M. Twenge, W. Keith Campbell. Associations between screen time and lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents: Evidence from a population-based study. Preventive Medicine Reports 12 (271-283), 2018.

Topics: Psychological Wellbeing , Screen Time

Year: 2018

Hosting University: U.S. Census Bureau, National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH)

Participants: survey of caregivers of 44,734 children and adolescents aged 2 to 17 (after exclusions: sample n of 40,337)

Data Collection: Cross-sectional; Oversampling of children with special health care needs; Groupings: preschoolers 2 to 5 years old, elementary schoolers 6 to 10 years old, middle schoolers 11 to 13 years old, and high schoolers 14-17 years old