July 19, 2019
2 min read

Screen time linked to depression in teens

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Study findings published in JAMA Pediatrics indicated an association between computer, social media and television use and increases in depressive symptoms among adolescents. Video gaming had no effect, researchers said.

“Parents should consider monitoring their child's social media and television behaviors, as content presented on these two media presumably have a negative impact on adolescents' self-esteem and may result in symptoms of depression," Elroy Boers, PhD, a research fellow in the department of psychiatry at the University of Montreal, told Infectious Diseases in Children.

According to the researchers, previous studies have reported positive associations between screen time and depression in adolescents. Others have found no association, whereas one study found a link between screen time and correlates of depression, including loneliness and low self-esteem.

Boers and colleagues addressed the limitations of the existing research by examining associations between four types of screen time — social media, television, video gaming and computer use — and depression in adolescents. They also investigated the association over time, which has not been previously done, they wrote.

Depressed teenage girl in bedroom on phone crying 
Source: Adobe Stock

Boers and colleagues conducted a secondary analysis of a randomized clinical trial that assessed the 4-year efficacy of a personality-targeted drug and alcohol prevention program among a cohort of adolescents from 31 schools in the Greater Montreal area during grades 7 to 11. They assessed screen time and depression in this cohort through an annual survey in which participants indicated on a scale from 0 (not at all) to 4 (very much) to what extent they experienced seven symptoms of depression. They were evaluated on screen time and divided into four categories of use:

  • 0 to 30 minutes;
  • 30 minutes to 1 hour and 30 minutes;
  • 1 hour and 30 minutes to 2 hours and 30 minutes; and
  • 3 hours and 30 minutes or more.

The study included 3,826 adolescents. Overall, depression symptoms increased yearly. According to the researchers, for every increased hour spent using social media, adolescents displayed a 0.64-unit increase in depressive symptoms (95% CI, 0.32-0.51). They reported similar associations for computer use, which accounted for a 0.69-unit increase (95% CI, 0.47-0.91).

The researchers said that for every 1-hour increase in social media use in a given year, there was a further 0.41-unit increase in depressive symptoms (95% CI, 0.32-0.51) in that same year. Television was associated with a 0.18-unit increase (95% CI, 0.09-0.27).


Video gaming was not associated with depression, they wrote.

The researchers concluded that the findings may likely be explained by two media effects theories — upward social comparison and reinforcing spirals hypotheses.

“As hypothesized, we expected screen time containing depictions of peers' 'so-called' idealized lives would lower one's self-esteem and in turn increase the severity of depression symptoms,” Boers said. “Social media and television contain such depictions the most.” – by Joe Gramigna

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.