Screen Time, Teenagers, and Depression

Is there a link between teenagers’ use of electronic devises and depression? Well, it’s complicated.

A new study analyzing data from high school students in Montreal has found a significant link between increased “screen time” and an increase in depressive symptoms.  Interestingly, the increase in depression is linked to television and social media use, but not to video gaming.  Researchers hypothesize that video gaming generally includes social contact between peers and fellow gamers.

Further, in attempting to find a reason for the increased depressive symptoms, no correlation was found between hours using television and social media and hours spent in exercise – in other words, some of the students were logging long screen times and also long exercise times, or vice versa, showing that they are not displacing one activity with another.

The link between increased use of social media and television and depressive symptoms appears to be a result of “upward social comparison” – the idea that other people’s lives are more fun or rewarding than mine is.  In a year-on-year comparison of the scores of individual students, there also appears to be a “spiraling” effect where self-esteem seems to be reduced year after year with increasing use of social media and television.

How to advise people

In advising parents of adolescents, and, indeed in considering making changes to our own behavior, therefore, it is important to keep in mind that there are differing effects from different kinds of “screen time” and also that ways of advising teenagers about screen time and depression should take more account of self-esteem and social comparison issues rather than suggesting alternative activities.

Moodsurfing continues to follow the rapidly growing field of screen time and mental health, with a wide variety of data and conclusions becoming available on an almost daily basis.  Since use of electronic modes of entertainment and communication seem likely to only become more important in the future, we can expect more and more study of their effects on our social and individual health and well-being.

For more information:

Media Consumption and Stress

CBT Effective for Internet addiction

Facebook friends can save your life

Facebook causes depression