IS screen time bad for kids? The same set of numbers have drawn divergent conclusions in research.

The first iPhone was introduced in 2007, just over a decade later, in 2018, a PEW survey found that 95 percent of the teenagers had access to a smartphone, and 45 percent said they were online ''almost constantly''.

When researchers began trying to gauge the impact of all this ''screen time'' on adolescent mental health, some reported alarming results.

One widely publicized 2017 study in the journal Clinical Psychological Science found that the longer adolescents were engaged with screens, the greater their likelihood of having symptoms of depression or of attempting suicide.

Conversely, the more time they spent on nonscreen activities, like playing sports, or hanging out with friends, the less likely they were to experience those problems. These and other similar findings have helped stoked fears of generation lost to smartphones.

But other researchers began to worry that such dire conclusions were representing what the existing data really said. Earlier this year, Amy Orben and Andrew K. Przybyiski, at Oxford University, applied an especially comprehensive statistical method to some of the same raw data that the 2017 study and others used.

Their results, published in Nature Human Behaviour found only a tenuous relationship between adolescent well-being and the use of digital technology. How can the set sets of numbers spawn such divergent conclusions?

It maybe because the answer the answer to the questions of whether the screen time is bad for kids is ''It depends.'' And it means figuring out ''On what?''

The first step in evaluating any behavior is to collect lots of health-related information from large numbers of people who engage in it.

Such epidemiological surveys, which often involve conducting phone interviews with thousands of randomly selected people, are useful because they can ask a wider range of questions and enroll far more subjects they clinical trials typically can.

Getting answers to dozens of questions about people's daily lives - how often they exercise, how many close friends they have, - allows researchers to explore potential relationships between wide range of habit and health outcomes, and how they change over time.

Since 1971, for instance, the United States National Institute on Drug Abuse has been funding a survey called Monitoring the Future [M.T.F] which asks adolescents about drug and alcohol use as well as other things, including more recently, vaping and digital technology; in 2019, more than 40,000 students from nearly 400 schools responded.

This method of collecting data has drawbacks, though. For starters people are notoriously bad at self-reporting how they often do something or how they feel. Even if their responses are entirely accurate, that data can't speak to cause and effect.

If the most depressed teenagers also use the most digital technology, for example, there's no way to say if the technology used their low mood or vice versa, or if other factors were involved.

The honor and serving of the latest global operational research on screen-time students, continues. The World Students Society thanks author Kim Tingley.


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