How Much Screen Time Is Safe For Teens?

‘‘Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a
natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re
fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get
a career in it. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of
things.’’ –Douglas Adams, 2002


A recent article published by the Wall Street Journal (March 18, 2017) makes reference to a study by two British authors: Andrew K. Prybylski from the University of Oxford and Netta Weinstein from the University of Cardiff.  The study published in the journal Psychologial Science reports that teenagers can spend a substantial amount of time on devices without harmful effects on their mental well being. The study expands on a previous line of research by the same authors  exploring how people view digital technology. According to the authors, negative attitudes and beliefs linking games to real-world violence were prominent among those with little direct exposure to electronic gaming contexts, whereas those who played games and reported doing so with their children tended to evaluate gaming more positively. Very few of those who play internet-based video games have symptoms suggesting they may be addicted (note: addiction being defined as a compulsive engagement in a behavior despite adverse consequences). The article also says that gaming, though popular, is unlikely to be as addictive as gambling and that fears about technology are overblown.  The researchers have primarily used studies analyzing cross-sectional data, and as such no causal inferences can be drawn from them.  Indeed, given the nature of the data it is possible that attitudes shape game exposure, not the reverse. The positive aspect about the study is the large population studied: more than 120,000 15-year-olds from the national pupil database of the UK’s Department of Education. It would be worthwhile in future research to explore how both quantity and quality (abut the videogames people play) link to attitudes, and the importance of exposure relative to cultural (e.g., socio-political) and informational (e.g., news sources) factors.  The authors have published several studies on this subject, building upon each other and drawing similar conclusions. The following abstracts illustrates some of their results:

Psychol Sci. 2017 Feb;28(2):204-215. doi: 10.1177/0956797616678438. Epub 2017 Jan 13.

A Large-Scale Test of the Goldilocks Hypothesis.


Although the time adolescents spend with digital technologies has sparked widespread concerns that their use might be negatively associated with mental well-being, these potential deleterious influences have not been rigorously studied. Using a preregistered plan for analyzing data collected from a representative sample of English adolescents ( n = 120,115), we obtained evidence that the links between digital-screen time and mental well-being are described by quadratic functions. Further, our results showed that these links vary as a function of when digital technologies are used (i.e., weekday vs. weekend), suggesting that a full understanding of the impact of these recreational activities will require examining their functionality among other daily pursuits. Overall, the evidence indicated that moderate use of digital technology is not intrinsically harmful and may be advantageous in a connected world. The findings inform recommendations for limiting adolescents’ technology use and provide a template for conducting rigorous investigations into the relations between digital technology and children’s and adolescents’ health.


Am J Psychiatry. 2017 Mar 1;174(3):230-236. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2016.16020224. Epub 2016 Nov 4.

Internet Gaming Disorder: Investigating the Clinical Relevance of a New Phenomenon.



The American Psychiatric Association (APA) identified Internet gaming disorder as a new potential psychiatric disorder and has recognized that little is known about the prevalence, validity, or cross-cultural robustness of proposed Internet gaming disorder criteria. In response to this gap in our understanding, the present study, a first for this research topic, estimated the period prevalence of this new potential psychiatric disorder using APA guidance, examined the validity of its proposed indicators, evaluated reliability cross-culturally and across genders, compared it to gold-standard research on gambling addiction and problem gaming, and estimated its impact on physical, social, and mental health.


Four survey studies (N=18,932) with large international cohorts employed an open-science methodology wherein the analysis plans for confirmatory hypotheses were registered prior to data collection.


Among those who played games, more than 2 out of 3 did not report any symptoms of Internet gaming disorder, and findings showed that a very small proportion of the general population (between 0.3% and 1.0%) might qualify for a potential acute diagnosis of Internet gaming disorder. Comparison to gambling disorder revealed that Internet-based games may be significantly less addictive than gambling and similarly dysregulating as electronic games more generally.


The evidence linking Internet gaming disorder to game engagement was strong, but links to physical, social, and mental health outcomes were decidedly mixed.


PeerJ. 2016 Apr 11;4:e1931. doi: 10.7717/peerj.1931. eCollection 2016.

How we see electronic games.


Theories regarding the influences of electronic games drive scientific study, popular debate, and public policy. The fractious interchanges among parents, pundits, and scholars hint at the rich phenomenological and psychological dynamics that underlie how people view digital technologies such as games. The current research applied Martin Heidegger’s concept of interpretive frameworks (Heidegger, 1987) and Robert Zajonc’s exposure-attitude hypothesis (Zajonc, 1968) to explore how attitudes towards technologies such as electronic games arise. Three studies drew on representative cohorts of American and British adults and evaluated how direct and indirect experiences with games shape how they are seen. Results indicated this approach was fruitful: negative attitudes and beliefs linking games to real-world violence were prominent among those with little direct exposure to electronic gaming contexts, whereas those who played games and reported doing so with their children tended to evaluate gaming more positively. Further findings indicated direct experience tended to inform the accuracy of beliefs about the effects of digital technology, as those who had played were more likely to believe that which is empirically known about game effects. Results are discussed with respect to ongoing debates regarding gaming and broader applications of this approach to understand the psychological dynamics of adapting to technological advances.

One response to “How Much Screen Time Is Safe For Teens?

  1. Pingback: Pornography and Autism | Cortical Chauvinism·

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