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Teens aren’t negatively impacted by screen use before bed, says study

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  • A new study from Oxford University suggests that teens are not negatively impacted by screen use before bed.
  • The study is based on over 17,000 time-use-diaries from teens around the globe.
  • Although the findings are fairly definitive, “no negative correlation” is certainly not the same as “positive correlation.”

With smartphones becoming more and more integrated with nearly every facet of our lives, there’s a concern that people — especially young children and teens — are getting too much screen time. All that staring at glowing rectangles is likely bad for them, right?

According to a new study by Amy Orben and Andrew Przybylski of the prestigious Oxford University, it’s not as bad as we might assume. The pair’s findings show that teenagers who engage in screen time before bed aren’t negatively impacted by doing so.

This runs contrary to what many parents likely believe. It’s a fairly common thought that using smartphones in bed or staring at a computer screen right before you go to sleep is bad for you.

Here are the study’s own words on the topic:

We found little evidence for substantial negative associations between digital-screen engagement — measured throughout the day or particularly before bedtime — and adolescent well-being.

Orben and Przybylski specially selected their data from three different studies on the topic which involved 17,000 teenagers from the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the United States. Unlike many other studies on the topic, the pair only used data from research involving time-use-diaries. In other words, studies in which random people are selected and given a questionnaire about their screen habits weren’t utilized, as Orben and Przybylski think these are inherently flawed.

Their opinions on the matter are explained in the study:

Recent work has demonstrated that only one-third of participants provide accurate judgments when asked about their weekly internet use, while 42 percent overestimate and 26 percent underestimate their usage. Inaccuracies vary systematically as a function of actual digital engagement: heavy internet users tend to underestimate the amount of time they spend online, while infrequent users overreport this behavior.

Rather than trust the teens to self-report their findings after the fact, Orben and Przybylski only trusted data from studies where teens were required to fill out diaries in real-time as they used their phones, tablets, computers, etc. Even with this specially-selected data from thousands of teens, the pair found no cause for concern.

It should be noted that “no cause for concern” is definitively different from “good” or “healthy.” Just because something doesn’t have a negative effect doesn’t mean it’s then inherently positive. Nighttime screen use might not be harming anyone, but reading a book, engaging in conversation, or listening to music might still be better pre-bedtime activities.

NEXT: Don’t lose sleep worrying about blue light

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