Rigorous new scientific study: Link between kids screen time and their well-being is highly overstated

In a heavy-duty new scientific paper published this week, University of Oxford researchers argue that the association between adolescent well-being and digital technology use is tiny. Really tiny. From Scientific American:

(The paper by experimental psychologist Andrew Przybylski and grad student Amy Orben) reveals the pitfalls of the statistical methods scientists have employed and offers a more rigorous alternative. And, importantly, it uses data on more than 350,000 adolescents to show persuasively that, at a population level, technology use has a nearly negligible effect on adolescent psychological well-being, measured in a range of questions addressing depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, pro-social behavior, peer-relationship problems and the like. Technology use tilts the needle less than half a percent away from feeling emotionally sound. For context, eating potatoes is associated with nearly the same degree of effect and wearing glasses has a more negative impact on adolescent mental health...

“We’re trying to move from this mind-set of cherry-picking one result to a more holistic picture of the data set,” Przybylski says. “A key part of that is being able to put these extremely miniscule effects of screens on young people in real-world context.”

Not surprisingly though, your mileage may vary. Not surprisingly, it all depends on the kid and what they're actually doing on the screen.

In a previous paper, Przybylski and colleague Netta Weinstein demonstrated a “Goldilocks” effect showing moderate use of technology—about one to two hours per day on weekdays and slightly more on weekends—was “not intrinsically harmful,” but higher levels of indulgence could be. And in a 2015 paper Odgers and a colleague reviewed the science addressing parents’ top fears about technology and found two important things: First, most of what happens online is mirrored offline. Second, effects really do depend on the user; benefits are conferred on some whereas risks are exacerbated for others, such as children who already suffer from mental health problems.

"The association between adolescent well-being and digital technology use" (Nature Human Behavior)