London – Parents should relax over fears that the internet is leaving teens depressed – as bullying and smoking marijuana are much worse for mental health, a study finds.
Research into 300 000 teens in the UK and United States analysed how much effect levels of screen use had on teenage well-being.
They found that it accounts for just 0.4 percent of the well-being of adolescents – and getting enough sleep and eating breakfast were more important.
The effect of smoking marijuana was nearly three times more important as a factor in poor mental health and depression. Being bullied was four times more likely to lead to unhappiness, the researchers said.
Technology use had as much of a negative impact as eating potatoes or wearing glasses, two factors also looked at in the study. Professor Andrew Przybylski, of the University of Oxford, said: "Our findings demonstrate that screen use itself has at most a tiny association with youth mental health. The 0.4 percent contribution of screen use on young people’s mental health needs to be put in context for parents and policymakers.
"Within the same dataset, we were able to demonstrate that including potatoes in your diet showed a similar association with adolescent wellbeing. Wearing corrective lenses had an even worse association."
In comparison, smoking marijuana and being bullied was found, on average, to have a 2.7 times and 4.3 times more negative association with adolescent mental health than screen use.
Activities such as getting enough sleep and eating breakfast, often overlooked in media coverage, had a much stronger association with wellbeing than technology use.
The study was based on three large sets of data, totalling more than 300 000 individuals surveyed between 2007 and 2016.
Andy Burrows, a child online safety expert at the NSPCC, said the results showed that the content the adolescent was viewing was more important than the length of time spent online.
He said: "This extensive research confirms we need to focus on whether young people’s online behaviour is age-appropriate and safe, rather than on screen time. It doesn’t matter whether they are sitting in front of a screen for two minutes, or two hours, we must ensure they are safe.
"The impact of internet-facilitated abuse to children and teenagers can be severe and lasting, which is why we need comprehensive action to ensure they are much better protected."