For several decades now, there has been this disconnect that technology is causing more and more problems for students. Whether it is video games make kids violent or develop conduct disorder traits, social media is causing students to be anxious and have FOMO, or watching too much television is leading to students being depressed and isolated, there is this fight that teenagers are hurting themselves mentally and emotions due to technology. But what does quality research say to this, is technology actually making our children worse? This is a question many youth pastors, parents of teenagers, and mental health professionals have been concerned about.
An article in the Association for Psychological Science is titled “There Is No Evidence That Associations Between Adolescents’ Digital Technology Engagement and Mental Health Problems Have Increased” with that very conclusion. What makes this study very important is that “it looked at 430,000 10 to 15-year-olds… over thirty years compared TV viewing, social-media and device use with feelings of depression, suicidal tendencies and behavioural problems.” This is not a single survey of 100 students with just one type of technology that makes broad interpretations.
What Did The Study Find?
Whenever there were any changes over the years with someone’s mental health negatively, it was minor enough that there was no statistical significance. That means it is easier to say that a death of a loved one, a pandemic, an abusive or absent parent, or being bullied at school does effect a teenager’s long-term mental health negatively, but not technology. Further, in several cases like conduct disorders with television stayed the same for many years and in some cases like depression and social media, depression actually lessened.
The study broke it down with regards to conduct disorder, suicidal ideation, depression, and emotional problems per type of device or platform and then even further by breaking out the data between sexes, still not a single conclusive dataset that showed any significant trends of impairment.
“Overall, there was very little evidence for an increase in the negative associations between technology and mental health over time and some evidence to the contrary.”
What this means is that we need to stop blaming teenager behaviors on technology. But hasn’t that always been the secret? We don’t want to look inward to see if we were being a bad parent, that our children are just making poor decisions, or society and the Church is not stepping up in many places? It’s easier to blame this inanimate object than be introspective.
Further, confirmation bias is a VERY strong feeling. “I see it in all the kids that come to my youth group” is a conversation point I’ve heard more than once. But this is not research, it’s a viewpoint.
What Did The Study Not Confirm?
I want to also make sure not to reinforce other biased confirmations on the other side of the spectrum. This is not saying technology cannot be inappropriate. Cyberbullying is real, online pornography and gambling is too accessible for children and a known trap for addiction, and this study did not take into account excessive use of technology after already struggling with mental illness or poor relationships. Further, the type of content consumed is not discussed. 24-hour news cycles that promote anxiety-based content or witnessing traumatic video of high-profile events has been shown to further impair people who struggle with already diagnosed mental illness.
This also did not say there is no issues with mental illness in teenagers, just that technology is not the source as thirty years ago. We know overall statistics mental illness in teenagers has increased, whether because awareness has increased or otherwise is unknown.
I’d love to hear your comments below on this. Further, here is some known benefits from a doctor who is a popular YouTuber on the topic of video games.