The key to digital media use and happiness is limited use.
Children who extensively use smartphones are markedly unhappier, according to a study exploring the link between adolescent life satisfaction and screen time.
To investigate this link, lead author and San Diego State University and professor of psychology Jean M. Twenge, along with colleagues Gabrielle Martin at SDSU and W.
Keith Campbell at the University of Georgia, crunched data from the Monitoring the Future (MtF) longitudinal study, a nationally representative survey of more than a million U.S. 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders.
The survey asked students questions about how often they spent time on their phones, tablets and computers, as well as questions about their in-the-flesh social interactions and their overall happiness.
On average, they found that teens who spent more time in front of screen devices--playing computer games, using social media, texting and video chatting--were less happy than those who invested more time in non-screen activities like sports, reading newspapers and magazines, and face-to-face social interaction.
Twenge believes this screen time is driving unhappiness rather than the other way around.
"Although this study can't show causation, several other studies have shown that more social media use leads to unhappiness, but unhappiness does not lead to more social media use," said Twenge, author of "iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--And Completely Unprepared for Adulthood."
Total screen abstinence doesn't lead to happiness either, Twenge found. The happiest teens used digital media a little less than an hour per day. But after a daily hour of screen time, unhappiness rises steadily along with increasing screen time.
"The key to digital media use and happiness is limited use," Twenge said. "Aim to spend no more than two hours a day on digital media, and try to increase the amount of time you spend seeing friends face-to-face and exercising--two activities reliably linked to greater happiness."
The study has been published in the journal Emotion.