Sunday, February 4, 2018

The more teenagers use smartphones, the less happy they are

NPR photo
New research shows that teenagers who spend a large amount of time on their smartphones are more likely to be unhappy, Melissa Healy reports for the Los Angeles Times.

The study, by researchers at San Diego State University and the University of Georgia, looked at data from the "Monitoring the Future" survey of more than 1 million eighth, 10th and 12 graders across the U.S to determine "why a decades-long rise in happiness and satisfaction among U.S. teens suddenly shifted course in 2012 and declined sharply over the next four years," Healy writes.

She notes that in 2012, half of U.S. adults and roughly 37 percent of teens owned a smartphone, and by 2016 that number had increased to 77 percent for adults and at least 73 percent for teens.

The study, published in the journal Emotion, "found that between 1991 and 2016, adolescents who spent more time on electronic communication and screens — social media, texting, electronic games, the internet ( and even television) — were less happy, less satisfied with their lives and had lower self-esteem," Healy writes. "By contrast, adolescents who spent more time on non-screen activities had higher psychological well-being. They tended to profess greater happiness, higher self-esteem and more satisfaction with their lives."

The pattern was "particularly clear" among eighth and 10th graders, the researchers wrote: "Every non-screen activity was correlated with greater happiness, and every screen activity was correlated with less happiness."

Kentucky YRBS 2007-2017 graph
The biannual Kentucky Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that in 2007, the first year the question was asked, 21.3 percent of high- school students said they spent three or more hours a day (outside school work) on social media, playing video games or using a computer. Since then, social media have exploded and average screen time has steadily increased,  to 41.2 percent in 2017. The national average in 2015 was 41.7 percent.

"By far the largest change in teens' lives between 2012 and 2016 was the increase in the amount of time they spent on digital media, and the subsequent decline in in-person social activities and sleep," lead author Jean M. Twenge told Agence France-Presse. "The advent of the smartphone is the most plausible explanation for the sudden decrease in teens' psychological well-being."

The AFP article adds that researchers didn't find that quitting digital media altogether was the answer, because they found that teens who spent a little less than an hour a day in front of the screen were the happiest. "It was after this daily hour of screen time that unhappiness levels steadily rose as screen time also rose," they report.

Healy adds that the analysis also found that teen "satisfaction did not consistently rise or fall in response to changes in median household income, the stock market's Dow Jones industrial average, the unemployment rate or college enrollment (which is also an economic bellwether)."

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