The happiest teenagers use screens for around an hour a day, new research finds.
More than this is linked to steadily rising levels of unhappiness.
The results come from a survey of over one million US teenagers aged 13-18.
The more time they spent in front of screens — using social media, texting or playing games — the less happy they were.
Their happier peers invested more time in reading, sports and face-to-face social interactions.
Professor Jean M. Twenge, the study’s first author, believes that screen time is driving depression, although the study cannot prove it:
“Although this study can’t show causation, several other studies have shown that more social media use leads to unhappiness, but unhappiness does not lead to more social media use.”
Interestingly, totally cutting out screens was not the best option for happiness — a little less than one hour a day turned out to be the sweet spot.
Professor Twenge said:
“The key to digital media use and happiness is limited use.
Aim to spend no more than two hours a day on digital media, and try to increase the amount of time you spend seeing friends face-to-face and exercising — two activities reliably linked to greater happiness.”
After 2012, teeangers’ self-esteem, life satisfaction and happiness has dropped like a stone compared with similar age groups from the 1990s.
It is probably no coincidence that smartphones are now everywhere, Professor Twenge said:
“By far the largest change in teens’ lives between 2012 and 2016 was the increase in the amount of time they spent on digital media, and the subsequent decline in in-person social activities and sleep.
The advent of the smartphone is the most plausible explanation for the sudden decrease in teens’ psychological well-being.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Emotion (Twenge et al., 2018).