By John Salak –
Not all screen time is apparently created equal when it comes to fostering healthy and harmful connections in the young. The University College of London, in fact, has discovered that 11-year-old boys who regularly play videos games are less likely to development depressive symptoms than male counterparts their age who largely skip this type of activity.
Conversely, researchers at the college found that girls who spend more time on social media seem to development a greater number of depressive symptoms than those who spend less time on these platforms.
The study underscores how various types of screen time impacts children and adolescents of differently, giving parents clues on how to best regulate access.
“Screens allow us to engage in a wide range of activities. Guidelines and recommendations about screen time should be based on our understanding of how these different activities might influence mental health and whether that influence is meaningful,” explained the study’s lead author PhD student Aaron Kandola.
The researchers were quick to note that their results do not mean boys should spend endless hours on video games as a means of reducing depression or anxiety. But Kandola added that playing video games “didn’t appear harmful in our study and may have some benefits. Particularly during the pandemic, video games have been an important social platform for young people.”
What Kandola’s team did stress is that instead of reducing screen time in particular, children and adults need to spend less time sitting down or being sedentary for both the benefit of their physical and mental wellbeing.
“We need to reduce how much time children — and adults — spend sitting down, for their physical and mental health, but that doesn’t mean that screen use is inherently harmful.”
The college’s report was based on data analysis from more than 10,000 adolescents in Britain, Sweden and Australia. The participants answered questions on the amount of time spent on social media and playing video games as well as questions on their moods, pleasure ratings and levels of concentration. The analysis also factored in a child’s socioeconomic status, physical activity levels, reports of bullying and prior emotional symptoms.
The results found that boys who played video games most days had 24 percent fewer depressive symptoms three years later than boys who played video games less than once a month. There was no apparent impact on girls, although results noted that the positive impact was greatest on less active boys.
Researchers suggested the greater impact on these low activity boys may indicate they derive more enjoyment and social interaction from video games, although it is difficult to confirm this based on the research conducted to date.
Conversely, social media usage had a negative impact on 11-year-old girls, but skipped any effects on boys. The researchers found that girls who used social media platforms most days had 13 percent more depressive symptoms three years later than those who hardly used social media.
The results may reflect the engagement levels of different types of online activities. The study’s senior author Dr Mats Hallgren explained that his earlier research found mentally active types of screen time—video games and some computer work—did not have a depressive impact on adults in the way passive screen time may.
“The relationship between screen time and mental health is complex, and we still need more research to help understand it,” he explained. “Any initiatives to reduce young people’s screen time should be targeted and nuanced. Our research points to possible benefits of screen time; however, we should still encourage young people to be physically active and to break up extended periods of sitting with light physical activity.”