Key Research

Reciprocal Relationships between Trajectories of Loneliness and Screen Media Use during Adolescence

Key Takeaways:

  • Increases in friendship quality are followed by a subsequent decrease in time spent on screen activities and vice versa
  • Impact of change in screen times and relationships occurs in a relatively short time, but may not be sustained over a period as long a year
  • The association of screen time effects on relationships is most evident in the use of social networking and video gaming
  • Based on these findings, educators, parents and allied health professionals should be mindful that substantial increases in the amount of time adolescents spend on screens might be a potential indicator of changes in quality of friendships or isolation.


LiveMore ScreenLess’ Summary

Use of screens may provide opportunities to ameliorate feelings of loneliness, yet conversely,  act as risk factors for the development of such feelings. This longitudinal study (same subjects over time) to determine the nature of the relationship between screens and feelings of loneliness.  The study looked at whether changes in five types of screen use (i.e., total screen time, social media use, gaming, passive screen use, and web use) are associated with changes in loneliness; what was found was that the greatest associations was between social networking,  electronic gaming, and quality of friendships. 

Definition of loneliness used for this study: the subjective experience of lack of connectedness, which arises when one’s intimate and social needs are not adequately met in terms of quantity or quality of social relations. Loneliness is a multidimensional, negative, and painful experience. Up to 80% of adolescents report feeling lonely at some time, while up to 22% can experience loneliness in a chronic form. Young people experiencing higher levels of loneliness are attracted to social media as a less threatening way of establishing social connections,  but that very same social media use may increase loneliness by displacing time that could have been used for more direct communications.

It is noted that the design of this study and its findings prevent any determination of whether screen use holds a special place in the lives of lonely adolescents, or whether it is just another solo activity of choice.

Lawrence, D., Hunter, S.C., Cunneen, R. et al. Reciprocal Relationships between Trajectories of Loneliness and Screen Media Use during Adolescence. J Child Fam Stud 31, 1306–1317 (2022). 

Topics: Loneliness , Mental Health , Social/Emotional Learning

Year: 2022

Participants: 1919 young people, ages 10 – 15

Data Collection: online surveys, 4 waves of collections, longitudinal design