The following is excerpted from an online article posted by Phys.org.
While many parents and caregivers believe teens spend too much time on smartphones, video games, and social media, a Michigan State University researcher says not to worry about screen time.
Keith Hampton, a professor in the Department of Media and Information and director of academic research in the Quello Center, says he doesn’t worry about screen time—he worries about adolescents who are disconnected because they have limited access to the internet.
“Teens who are disconnected from today’s technologies are more isolated from their peers, which can lead to problems,” Hampton said.
“Many young people are struggling with their mental health. While adolescents often grapple with self-esteem issues related to body image, peers, family and school, disconnection is a much greater threat than screen time. Social media and video games are deeply integrated into youth culture, and they do more than entertain. They help kids to socialize, they contribute to identity formation and provide a channel for social support.”
“Rural teens are the last remaining natural control group if we want insight into the mental health of adolescents who have no choice but to be disconnected from screens,” Hampton said.
In a paper based on a survey of 3,258 rural adolescents, Hampton and his team compared the self-esteem and social activities of teens with no or poor home internet access to teens who are the heaviest users of screens as well as teens with parents who tightly control or limit their screen use.
The single largest predictor of having lower self-esteem was, simply, being a girl.
Teens who had poor internet access at home and teens who had parents that exerted the most control over their media use also had substantively lower self-esteem—although only roughly half of the lower self-esteem experienced by a typical girl or those with low academic performance.
The amount of time teens spent on screens, whether it was watching videos, playing games, or using social media, did not play a big role in teens’ self-esteem. Even teens who were “excessive” users of screens reported higher self-esteem than those who were disconnected because they had poor internet access or their parents exerted a lot of control over their time online.
Why? Because media is deeply integrated into youth culture.
“Isolation doesn’t come from being online, it comes from being disconnected from those sources of entertainment and socialization that permeate teens’ lives,” Hampton said. “For most teens, that’s social media, video games and sharing the videos they watch online. It is often how teens get their information, communicate and share.”
The research was published in Social Science Computer Review.