Research by leading academics has implied that fears over the harmful effects of screen time on teens, for example in the forms of gaming, TV or spending time online — even before bedtime — could be misplaced, with little evidence found linking screen time and decreasing mental health in adolescents.

The study was conducted by researchers at Oxford University, based on data from more than 17,000 teenagers, and casts doubt on the widely accepted notion that spending time online, gaming or watching TV, especially before bedtime, can damage young people’s mental health.

The research published in the journal Psychological Science found that adolescents’ total screen time per day had little impact on their mental health, both on weekends and weekdays.

It also found that the use of digital screens two hours, one hour or 30 minutes before bedtime didn’t have clear associations with decreases in adolescent wellbeing, even though this is often taken as a fact by media reports and public debates.

Commenting on the research, Amy Orben, a lecturer at Queen’s College, Oxford, said, “Implementing best practice statistical and methodological techniques we found little evidence for substantial negative associations between digital-screen engagement and adolescent wellbeing”.

She added, “Because technologies are embedded in our social and professional lives, research concerning digital-screen use and its effect on adolescent wellbeing, is under increasing scrutiny. To retain influence and trust, robust and transparent research practices will need to become the norm — not the exception.”

The study by the research team builds on previous research which found that technology use explained at most 0.4% of adolescent wellbeing, concluding that wearing glasses had a more negative association with teen wellbeing than screen time.

The insights came days ahead of the release of the UK Government’s new White Paper on online harms, which looks at plans for legislation governing social media companies.

Last reviewed 8 May 2019