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Description: The media storm of concern over the ways in which screen time might be related to levels of depression and anxiety among teens and emerging adults has been heating up in recent months. As has been the case before with other global technological innovations (TV) good research on the questions being raised is hard to find. Like television, usage of screens and social media went from unique and rare to “what most people do” in a very short time. This means that there has not only not been enough time for good prospective (following children and youth over time) development research on screen time and social media effects to be done but it has also become harder to do given the ubiquity of the phenomena of concern. Add to that the uncertainty of what is meant by screen time and screen use (who watches or engages in what for how long etc.) and you can see where even with some large datasets in hand looking at things like “media use” and mental health and wellbeing among children and teens it is hard to sort out what is going on causally speaking. For example, consider the question of whether large amounts of social media use causes depression or rather whether depressed teens spend more time on social media. These sounds like simple questions but they are devilishly hard to convincingly address even with large datasets especially when the large datasets were not actual created with social media usage effects in mind. What to do? Well, think about that for a moment and then read the article linked below that looks at both the large dataset question and at the conceptual issue of needing to sort out screen time from screen use.

Source: Is Social Media Toxic to Your Teen’s Mental Health? Alison Escalante, Shouldstorm, Psychology Today.

Date: September 14, 2019

Photo Credit: Sara Kurfeß on Upsplash

Article Link:

So, the article linked above points out a few key things that we need to get sorted if we are going to be having to speak clearly and with data in hand to questions of the impacts of screen time and screen content (social media use). We are looking at different things when we look at screen time in general and happiness self-ratings as opposed to more specifically at social media use alongside retrospective accounts of issues related to depression and anxiety. For example, the relationship between social media use and depression changes a bit when we control for past issues with depression and anxiety. So, we are starting to see the sorts of research being done that will begin to sort of these pressing questions, but we have a long, long way to go before we can properly address the questions being asked in the current screen time media storm. More research IS needed.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How are the concepts of screen time and social media use related?
  2. Is the amount of time spent in from a screen on any sort a useful research variable?
  3. What sort of list of variable related to screen time and social media use do we need to draw up and consider if we are to be able to conduct research that will usefully address the current storm of media concerns over the developmental and mental health and wellbeing effects of such things?

References (Read Further):

Riehm, Kira, MsC., Feder, Kenneth, Phd., et al. (Sept. 11, 2019) “Associations Between Time Spent Using Social Media and Internalizing and Externalizing Problems Among US Youth” JAMA Psychiatry.

Twenge, J. M., Joiner, T. E., Rogers, M. L., & Martin, G. N. (2018). Increases in depressive symptoms, suicide-related outcomes, and suicide rates among US adolescents after 2010 and links to increased new media screen time. Clinical Psychological Science, 6(1), 3-17.,5&scillfp=16637530904598992641&oi=lle

Ophir, Y., Lipshits-Braziler, Y., & Rosenberg, H. (2019). New-Media Screen Time is Not (Necessarily) Linked to Depression: Comments on Twenge, Joiner, Rogers, and Martin (2018). Clinical Psychological Science, 2167702619849412.

Jensen, M., George, M. J., Russell, M. R., & Odgers, C. L. (2019). Young Adolescents’ Digital Technology Use and Mental Health Symptoms: Little Evidence of Longitudinal or Daily Linkages. Clinical Psychological Science, 2167702619859336.