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Description: Even if you are barely paying attention you cannot have missed media accounts and speculations regarding the impacts of screen time on development in childhood and on wellbeing among adolescents. Before we push panic buttons and start to crusade against another new technology (like we did about television a few decades ago) we should consider how recent research might inform us about screen time AND what such research may NOT tell us or, more specifically, are we asking the right research questions in the right way to build a valid and useful understanding of screen time and its potential effects (and its potential benefits). Two vital questions we should be considering in relation to screen time include first: What do we mean by “screen time” and what negative effects are we concerned about? This question requires that we be more specific about our interests and concerns. So rather than just is screen time good or bad we might ask something more specific like; Does social media use predict the subsequent emergence of depressive symptoms? A well designed study looking at this question (here is one) would clearly define and measure social media use and would assess depressive symptomology after, or developmentally downstream from) social media use. A second, and perhaps more important question, at least as we start to fire up debate on screen time, is to ask whether the studies looking generally at screen time and wellbeing have been properly designed and executed AND whether they make it clear exactly what they mean by “screen time.” Think for a moment about what a good (well designed) study on screen time and wellbeing among adolescents should look like and then read through the article inked below that describes a concerted effort to get it right (are at least to take a step in that direction.

Source: Screen Time – Even Before Bed A – Has Little Impact on Teen Well-Being. Anna Mikulak, APS.

Date: April 5, 2019

Photo Credit: Association for Psychological Science

Article Link:

So, what did you take away from your read of the linked article? The big finding was that screen time, simply defined, does not seem to predict much of anything in the way of negative developments or outcomes. Less flashy but perhaps even more important are the methodological statements addressed by the article about sample sizes and about the importance of a priori (up front before you gather and examine the data) statement of hypotheses so that you do not engage in a fishing expedition (casting around in a large dataset until you find one or two things that are statistically significant and potentially interesting against the backdrop of a lot of stuff that did not turn out the way you might have hoped). So, again, what did you take away from the account of the study included in the article linked above? Do you have a clear understanding of what “digital engagement” is or means as a working definition of screen time? Which of your own questions regarding screen time does this study settle for you, which are still open, and did any new questions arise for you during your reading? What next research steps would you like to see?

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is screen time and how much of your definition of that term is captured by the term “digital engagement?”
  2. Beyond the impact of big numbers on a study’s statistical power what other factors are potentially better addressed by have a LOT of people in your study?
  3. After reading the article linked above and, perhaps, having had a look at the actual research article itself, what sorts of studies do you think we need to consider undertaking now in relation to screen time and wellbeing?

References (Read Further):

Orben, A., & Baukney-Przybylski, A. K. (2018). Screens, Teens and Psychological Well-Being: Evidence from three time-use diary studies. Psychological Science.

Przybylski, A. K., & Weinstein, N. (2019). Digital Screen Time Limits and Young Children’s Psychological Well‐Being: Evidence From a Population‐Based Study. Child development, 90(1), e56-e65.

Okely, A. D., Tremblay, M. S., Reilly, J. J., Draper, C., & Robinson, T. N. (2019). Advocating for a cautious, conservative approach to screen time guidelines in young children. The Journal of pediatrics.

Lissak, G. (2018). Adverse physiological and psychological effects of screen time on children and adolescents: Literature review and case study. Environmental research, 164, 149-157.

Knell, G., Durand, C. P., Kohl, H. W., Wu, I. H., & Gabriel, K. P. (2019). Prevalence and Likelihood of Meeting Sleep, Physical Activity, and Screen-Time Guidelines Among US Youth. JAMA pediatrics, 173(4), 387-389.