Researchers have found that social media use, television viewing and computer use, but not video gaming, are linked to an increase in anxiety symptoms among adolescents.
The study, published by Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, shows that a higher-than-average frequency of social media use, television viewing and computer use over four years predicts more severe symptoms of anxiety for the same time frame.
“These findings suggest that one way to help teens manage anxiety could be to help them limit the amount of time they spend in front of screens,” said a study researcher Patricia Conrod from the University of Montreal in Canada.
Over and above a potential common vulnerability to both sets of behaviours, the study demonstrates that if a teen experienced an increase in their social media use, television viewing and computer use in a given year which surpassed their overall average level of use, then his or her anxiety symptoms also increased in that same year.
Furthermore, when adolescents decreased their social media use, television viewing, and computer use, their symptoms of anxiety became less severe. Thus, no lasting effects were found.
“It appears that computer use is uniquely associated to increases in anxiety, potentially in relation to using the computer for homework activities, but this needs further research,” said the study lead author Elroy Boers.
For the findings, the research team followed almost 4,000 Canadian teenagers from ages 12 to 16 who were part of the Co-Venture Trial. Each year of high school, teens were asked to self-report time spent in front of digital screens and specified amount of time spent engaging in four different types of screen time activities (social media, television, video gaming and computer use).
Moreover, the teenagers completed self-reported questionnaires on various anxiety symptoms at ages 12 to 16.
Then, after data collection, state-of-the-art statistical analyses were performed to assess the between-person, with-person, and lagged-within person associations between screen time and anxiety in adolescence.
These analyses augment standard analyses by modelling the year-to-year changes of both sets of problems, thus, taking into account possible common vulnerability and possible natural developmental changes in each set of behaviours or symptoms.
The study findings indicate social media use, television viewing, and computer use are predictors of anxiety in adolescence.
“While our results are based on observational research design, the nature of statistical approach that we used to test possible causal effects robustly controlled for any potential common underlying vulnerability to high levels of screen time and anxiety,” Conrod said.