A new study published in the May 3 edition of the journal Child Development indicates that use of digital technology can be simultaneously detrimental and beneficial for adolescents at risk for mental health issues.
For the study, more than 150 children ages 11-15 from poor U.S. neighborhoods were given smartphones, then asked to respond to brief surveys three times a day for a month about their digital activity and how they were feeling. Eighteen months later, they were assessed for symptoms of mental health problems.
The children averaged 2.3 hours per day on their phones or other digital devices, sending an average of 41 texts every day. They reported more behavioral problems and symptoms related to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder on days when they used digital technology more heavily. However, their levels of anxiety and depression dropped on days when they texted more often.
Study co-author Candice Odgers, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy, noted the findings suggest that "for already at-risk teens, high usage may amplify existing problems." Yet, she added, that may be counterbalanced by the fact that the majority of kids are "connecting in often positive ways" and benefit from the support of their online peer networks.
With that mix of pros and cons, neither unlimited tech use nor outright device bands are likely to be appropriate for teens.