The Link Between Smartphone Use and Mental Health

If you are concerned about how much time your child spends with screens, you are not alone. Electronic device usage has increased—in fact, a 2015 study showed that most babies had used electronic devices before two years of age.

New research published in the journal Child Development indicates that children who are at risk of mental health problems are at an increased risk of attention and disruptive behavior problems when they spend a lot of time with digital technology.

For the study, researchers reviewed previous studies and also gave smartphones to 151 children (between 11 and 15 years of age). The participants were from poor neighborhoods in the United States and were considered to be at risk for mental health problems. The smartphones would beep three times a day for a month, prompting the participants to answer questions about how they were feeling. Through this process, the researchers were able to track how symptoms and moods changed in accordance with how often the smartphones were being used.

On average, the participants spent about 2.3 hours a day on digital technology devices and sent an average of 41 text messages per day. When the technology was used more frequently, more symptoms of conduct disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder were reported.

However, a positive benefit was also uncovered. Researchers discovered that when children sent more text messages in a day, they were also less depressed and anxious. However, there is still very little known about the effects that electronic usage has on mental health and development.

Candice Odgers, co-author of the study and professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, stated that the study findings indicate that using technology excessively can amplify problems that already exist. And while the internet can provide a place for connections and education, there are also risks like cyberbullying.

Odgers points to recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which suggests that parents place limits on media time for children.

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