How Has Technology Use Affected Adolescent Mental Health?
Over 30 years, no increase was observed in the association between rates of mental health problems among adolescents and levels of technological engagement, according to the results of a recent study.1
“If we want to understand the relationship between tech and well-being today, we need to first go back and look at historic data—as far back as when parents were concerned too much TV would give their kids square eyes—in order to bring the contemporary concerns we have about newer technologies into focus,” said lead author Matti Vuorre, a postdoctoral researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute, in an accompanying press release.2
The researchers conducted their study using data from 3 large representative data sets in the United States and United Kingdom, including 430,561 adolescents aged 10 to 15 years. Links between social media use and television viewing and depression, emotional problems, conduct problems, and suicidality were investigated.
Overall, the relationship between social media and television and conduct problems remained stable over time, the relationship between both technologies and depression was shown to decrease over time, and the relationship between emotional problems and social media was shown to increase over time. No changes were identified in the relationship between suicidal ideation and behavior with either technology.
“Concerns that technology is becoming both more prevalent in young people’s lives and likewise more harmful to their mental health have gained traction in recent years. If supported by empirical study, this idea would potentially suggest policy intervention,” the researchers concluded.
Although we found little evidence suggesting that technology is becoming more harmful over time, we note that data accrued by internet-based and social-media platforms are needed to more rigorously examine these possibilities. It is our hope that transparent and robust science would emerge in collaboration with industry stakeholders to better elucidate the changing roles of technology in young people’s lives.”
- Vuorre M, Orben A, Przybylski AK. There is no evidence that associations between adolescents’ digital technology engagement and mental health problems have increased. Published online May 3, 2021. Clin Psych Sci. https://doi.org/10.1177/2167702621994549
- Little to no increase in association between adolescents’ mental health problems and digital technology engagement, study says. News release. APS. May 4, 2021. https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/2021-may-digital-technology-engagement.html