Not too little, not too much, but it’s absolutely true: This middle ground is what researchers say offers teens the best luxury when it comes to the time they spend online.
Not too little, not too much, but just right.
This middle ground is what researchers say offers teens the best well-being when it comes to the time they spend online.
A recent study of thousands of Irish teens found that low and high interaction with digital media compared to their peers was associated with poorer mental health.
Instead, the researchers suggest that moderate levels of use are “not intrinsically harmful,” a finding that supports what’s known as the “Goldilocks” theory.
The study, from the Department of Sociology at Trinity College Dublin, was published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.
There is a simple narrative that more is worse. “It is important to emphasize that online sharing is now a natural channel for social engagement, and not using has consequences,” Richard Light, professor of sociology at Trinity College Dublin and co-author of the paper, said in a statement.
“Our findings also raise the possibility that moderate use matters in today’s digital world and that low levels of online engagement carry its own risks. Now the questions for researchers are: What is too much and how little is too little?”
The researchers used data from the government-funded “Growing Up in Ireland” study, which followed two groups of thousands of children for years.
As part of the latest study, researchers measured the online participation of more than 6,000 young adults at age 13 and again at 17 or 18 years old.
After excluding missing data, the total number of participants was eventually over 5,000.
The researchers asked participants to report the amount of time they spent online and the activities they engaged in, such as online messaging, sharing videos and photos, working at school or college, watching movies and listening to music.
The study measured mental health based on psychological symptoms reported by parents when their child was 13 and 17 years old, using questions asked about emotional, behavioral and peer issues.
The researchers also adjusted for prior psychiatric disorders and symptoms at age nine, as well as socioeconomic factors using the mother’s education level.
Members of the “low” group reported spending between 1 and 30 minutes online per day, “moderate” groups spent between 61 and 90 minutes online, and the “high” participation group reported between 91 and 120 minutes online.
What the researchers found was that both high and low digital use were associated with increased psychological symptoms, compared to those with moderate use.
There were also clear differences between groups who spent similar time online, but differed in their online behavior, said lead author Ross Branigan, a former postdoctoral researcher in Trinity’s Department of Sociology.
This means that the quality and type of behavior must also be considered, he said, such as whether it is passive or active, or whether it is for social, educational or recreational purposes.
“Digital media and internet use are a controversial topic when it comes to their impact on mental health, with no real consistency of results overall,” Branigan said.
“While these findings are not causal or deterministic, our findings are an important first step on the path to revealing why these relationships exist. It will now be important to build on these findings and further investigate why digital media sharing is associated with mental health.” .