1. In this systematic review, increased screen time was associated with worsened mental health outcomes in adolescents.
2. However, the purpose of the screen use was important to consider. Activities such as social media were negatively associated with mental health, while non-recreational activities, such as online study, were not.
Evidence Rating Level: 1 (Excellent)
Adolescents have high levels of both mental health complaints and screen time. However, research on the effects of screen time on adolescent mental health has generated conflicting results, so the association between the two remains unclear. As a result, the objective of the present study was to review and quantify the current evidence on the effect that screen exposure may have on adolescent mental health.
Of 1309 identified records, 50 studies were included from various databases from 2011 to 2023. Studies were included if they directly assessed associations between screen time and mental health in adolescents, used validated measures to assess mental health outcomes, and were published in English. Studies were excluded if participants had problematic internet use, pre-existing mental health disorders, or used screen-based devices for functional reasons. The review was performed using PRISMA guidelines. Study quality was assessed using the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale. The primary outcome was the impact of screen time on various mental health parameters.
The results demonstrated that overall, screen time was associated with worsened mental health outcomes in adolescents, although the effect size varied. The most commonly used device among adolescents was the smartphone, and high screen time on weekdays was associated with worsened wellbeing. However, the purpose of the screen use was an important factor to consider. While activities like social media negatively impacted mental health, this same association was not seen for non-recreational activities, such as online study. Despite these results, the review was limited by the self-reported nature of the included studies, which may have led to inaccuracies in screen time. Nonetheless, the present study added additional evidence supporting the harmful mental health effects of increased screen time among adolescents.
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