JUN 13, 2022 10:00 AM PDT

A 'Goldilocks amount' of time sent online could be good for teenagers' wellbeing

We live in an age where everyone is online, but moderation is key to a healthy life. We all love being online, but we also must find the right balance of being out in the real world. Balance is key, so we must find that happy middle, or Goldilocks zone of happiness.

A recent study published in Computers in Human Behavior has found further evidence of a relationship between online engagement and mental wellbeing in teenagers. The study contributes to mounting international evidence on the dangers of high levels of digital media use.

Additionally, the researchers found that in today's connected world low engagement with digital media is also associated with poor mental health outcomes for adolescents who spend less time online than their peers. This finding supports the 'goldilocks' hypothesis -- that digital media use at moderate levels is not intrinsically harmful and there is a point between low and high use that is 'just right' for young people.

This is the first time the 'goldilocks' theory has been examined in Irish teenagers/young adults. It is also the first study to attempt the integration of both time and online behaviors when examining associations between digital media and mental wellbeing.

"Evidence is mounting internationally that online engagement among adolescents may be damaging for mental well-being but the evidence is mixed,” said Professor Richard Layte, Professor of Sociology and co-author on the study. “Our work provides fresh insights on the impact of digital engagement at the age of 17/18 and the results provide worrying evidence of real harms that require urgent action."

The research looked at the association between adolescent use of online engagement and mental wellbeing in over 6,000 young people between the age of 13 and again at the age of 17/18.

The researchers asked participants to report the time they spent online as well as the activities they engaged in: online messaging, sharing of videos and pictures, school or college work, watching movies and listening to music. Mental wellbeing was assessed by questions investigating emotional, behavioral and peer issues.

The study characterized young person's online behavior based on length of time spent online as well as the types of online behaviors engaged in. Adjusting for prior psychiatric disorders and symptoms at the age of 9 and 13, the study found that high engagement in digital media strongly predicted worse mental health outcomes for both boys and girls. Furthermore, low use of digital media was associated with worse mental health for both boys and girls and was also predictive of peer problems for girls.

This study is part of the TeenPath Project, a collaborative project between the Department of Sociology in Trinity College Dublin and the Department of Public Health and Epidemiology in The School of Population Health, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!

Sources: Computers in Human Behavior

MS in Geological Sciences
Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of “Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey”.
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