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Study shows that not all screen media use is the same when it comes to the well-being of adolescents

In a recently published paper in the Journal of Adolescent Health, a team led by Dan Romer studied the use of different screen media by a national panel of over 700 adolescents and young adults over a 1-year period. Despite research that lumps all screen media use together, the study found that heavy TV use is associated with poorer school performance, while moderate use of the Internet (1 to 4 hours per day) does not interfere with school and is positively associated with participation in clubs and sports.


The most adaptive use of the Internet is for acquiring information, such as for school or to read the news. Indeed, young people who read books at least a few days a week are among the healthiest in the study. “We always assumed that book readers do well in school, but we were surprised at how active they are in clubs and no less active in sports,” said Romer. “It is encouraging to see that over 45% of the youth in our study are book readers and use TV much less for entertainment.”


There are also some dark sides to screen media use. Youth who use the Internet heavily and play video games at high rates (more than 4 hours per day) report more symptoms of depression than other youth. “It is likely that these youth are already depressed before they spend so much time online and in gaming,” added Romer. “They appear to be withdrawing from social activity and move to interactive screen media as a replacement for that activity.”


The study appears in the May issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health (vol. 52, pages 613-619).