Concerns about the harm caused by “too much” screen time – especially when it is spent on social media – are widespread. But to work on what a “healthy” amount can be it is far from easy.
The titles rarely calm the nerves.
Apple’s Tim Cook has recently said that he would not want his nephew on a social network, while child health experts have written to Facebook warning the excessive use of digital devices and social media “is dangerous for children and adolescents”.
There are many other examples of this kind.
Negative experiences on social media – such as bullying, or become worried about how your appearance compares to others – and can affect some children and young people.
However, this does not mean that the use of the technology in general is harmful and it is difficult to make claims about how it will impact on different people.
In fact, some studies suggest that the use of social media can bring benefits, or have no effect on the well-being of all.
A survey on the impact of social media and the use of this screen on the health of young people has been announced this week by the united KINGDOM, Members of parliament, who hope to separate the “understandable concerns from the unity of the proof.”
For the moment, any person thinking about how much time using screens and social media is “OK” will ultimately have to make a personal judgment.
Consider the picture painted by the Unicef to the analysis of existing research on the effects of digital technology on the psychological well-being of children, including happiness, mental health, and social life.
Rather than saying that social media was harmful, he suggested a more complex effect.
The Unicef report has highlighted a 2017 study by my colleagues at the University of Oxford, who has examined 120 000 united KINGDOM 15 years.
Among teens who have been the lightest of users, it has been found that increased time spent using technology were related to improving the well-being – may be because it was important to maintain links of friendship.
In contrast, among the largest users of the technology, any increase in time is related to low levels of well-being.
Researchers have suggested that, for adolescents, the use of technology can get in the way of taking part in other important activities.
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The point where the use of technology flips to have a positive effect to a negative effect has been different for each class during which researchers have looked.
For example, more than two hours of phone usage on one day of the week, and more than four hours on a weekend day, has been linked to lower well-being.
This effect, however, was small and only predicted 1% of a teenager’s well-being.
Researchers have suggested that the positive effect of regular consumption of breakfast, or get a good night’s sleep, was three times stronger.
Overall, the Unicef study suggested that some screen time can be good for children, the mental well-being.
“The digital technology seems to be beneficial for children, in social relations,” he said. The impact on levels of physical activity, however, was “inconclusive”.
Similar trends for the technologies and the effects on well-being have been found in a later study, in a large number of adolescents in the united states.
However, the researchers have warned that social media and the use of technology negatively affects the well-being of adolescent girls.
The findings of fact in the headlines.
One of the authors, professor of psychology Jean Twenge, has suggested that “excessive” use of the devices is the problem.
But again, the effects were small in size, with the positive effects of exercise being more important.
On the other hand the authors of the Oxford study, Dr. Twenge recommends that less screen time for children.
“A half-hour, an hour, a day, which seemed to be the sweet spot for the mental health of adolescents in terms of electronic devices,” she said.
A broader approach to evidence provided by other studies of quality, once again, the story is not clear.
A first study in 2013, has discussed how the television and the video games habits of 11,000 UK, five years has affected two years later.
This is one of the few studies to actually monitor the impact of the technology over time.
It was suggested that, in comparison with children who had watched an hour of television or less a day of the week, a small increase in conduct problems was observed among those who watched more than three hours each day.
Playing electronic games, however, was not considered as leading to a greater risk of attention deficit disorder, or friendship or emotional problems.
How long should we, or our children, to spend looking at the screens?
It is difficult to be more precise, that different people spend time online in such different ways.
For example, someone enjoy their time chatting with friends is to use social media in a very different way to someone worrying about their own life as they flick through contacts, photos.
It seems to be the case that the debate on the social media oversimplifies the reality.
A useful comparison may be with the sugar.
Generally speaking, people agree that excessive amounts of sugar can be bad for your health.
But the effect it may have may depend on many factors, the type of sugar, fruit, or refined; to the person – athlete, or diabetic; and the amount – a gram, or a lot.
We could not easily trust people who claim to predict how a person is affected by the consumption of one gram of sugar.
The same thing could be said for social media use: the results depend on a lot of factors that very crude predictions are possible.
The research on social media can sometimes help us to navigate in the debate, but concrete evidence does not yet exist.
This situation may improve significantly as more research is carried out in the years to come.
But for now, we must rely on our own judgment to decide how much time we and our children spend on social media.
About this piece
This analysis was commissioned by the BBC to an expert working for an outside agency.
Amy Orben research on the effects of social media on human relations at the University of Oxford. Follow @OrbenAmy
Edited by Duncan Walker