Wanting to examine the relationship between adolescent life satisfaction and screen time, researchers from the University of Georgia and San Diego State University teamed up to look at data from Monitoring the Future, a longitudinal study that examines the behaviors, attitudes and values among teens in the US. Teens in the study were asked how much time they spent on smartphones, tablets, computers and also about their face-to-face social interaction and their "overall happiness."
After reviewing the data, researchers determined that teenagers who spent more time playing computer games, texting, video chatting and using various social media platforms were less happy than those who chose to ditch the screen for sports, reading and *shocker* talking to people in person.
But going cold turkey on the screen time doesn't exactly mean that moods will improve among teens, says Jean Twenge, the study's lead author.
"The key to digital media use and happiness is limited use," Twenge said in a statement. "Aim to spend no more than two hours a day on digital media and try to increase the amount of time you spend seeing friends face-to-face and exercising — two activities reliably linked to greater happiness."
"Although this study can't show causation, several other studies have shown that more social media use leads to unhappiness, but unhappiness does not lead to more social media use," she added.
Incidentally, researchers also found that the rapid increase of personal electronics directly corresponded with "the general drop-off in reported happiness in teens." According to the study, teenagers noted a drop in their self-esteem, life satisfaction and general happiness at the same time that more than 50 percent of the participants snagged a smartphone.
"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," she said. "The advent of the smartphone is the most plausible explanation for the sudden decrease in teens' psychological well-being."
While parents might be secretly rejoicing, it's likely Twenge's findings won't get much love from the tech industry.
The Monitoring the Future study initially began surveying 12th graders in US schools in 1975, but it was not until 1991 that it also began to survey eighth and 10th graders.