Shared from the 1/24/2018 San Francisco Chronicle eEdition


Study: Less smartphone time equals happier teens

LOS ANGELES — A precipitous drop in the happiness, self-esteem and life satisfaction of American teens came as their ownership of smartphones rocketed from zero to 73 percent and they devoted an increasing share of their time online.

Coincidence? New research suggests it is not.

In a study published Monday in the journal Emotion, psychologists from San Diego State University and the University of Georgia used data on mood and media culled from roughly 1.1 million U.S. teens to figure out why a decades-long rise in happiness and satisfaction among U.S. teens suddenly shifted course in 2012 and declined sharply over the next four years.

Was this sudden reversal a response to an economy that tanked in 2007 and stayed bad well into 2012? Or did it have its roots in a very different watershed event: the 2007 introduction of the smartphone, which put the entire online world at a user’s fingertips?

Evidence of their affect on teens has been all over the map. Some studies show that the greater the time spent engaged in online content and social media, the unhappier the child. Others have found evidence that participation in social media plays a positive role in teens’ self-images.

In the new study, researchers found that between 1991 and 2016, adolescents who spent more time on social media, texting, electronic games, and the Internet were less happy, less satisfied with their lives and had lower self-esteem. TV watching was similarly linked to lower psychological wellbeing.

By contrast, adolescents who spent more time on non-screen activities had higher psychological well-being. They tended to profess greater happiness, higher self-esteem and more satisfaction with their lives.

Melissa Healy is a Los Angeles Times writer.

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