Extracurricular activities help adolescents’ mental health, screen time does not: study

TORONTO — A new study from researchers at the University of British Columbia has examined how recreational screen time and participation in extracurricular activities can impact the mental health and well-being of adolescents.

According to the study, adolescents who spent less than two hours per day of recreational screen time experienced higher levels of life satisfaction and optimism. Reduced screen time was also associated with lower levels of anxiety and symptoms of depression, especially among girls.

Data for the study was drawn from a survey involving more than 28,000 Grade 7 students from 365 schools across B.C. Researchers examined recreational screen time activities, such as playing video games, watching television, and browsing the internet, as well as participation in extracurricular activities such as sports or arts programs. They then compared those findings with positive and negative mental health indicators

“Although we conducted this study before the COVID-19 pandemic, the findings are especially relevant now when teens may be spending more time in front of screens in their free time if access to extracurricular activities, like sports and arts programs is restricted due to COVID-19,” the study’s lead author and assistant professor with the University of British Columbia’s school of population and public health Eva Oberle said in a statement. 

“Our findings highlight extracurricular activities as an asset for teens’ mental wellbeing. Finding safe ways for children and teens to continue to participate in these activities during current times may be a way to reduce screen time and promote mental health and wellbeing.”

With regard to the gender disparity between the mental health effects of young adolescents boys and girls, researchers pointed to the different ways students engage in screen-based activities.

“Boys tend to spend more time playing video games while girls tend to spend more time on social media,” Oberle said in a statement to CTVNews.ca. “Social media has been linked to negative mental health outcomes in particular.”

According to Oberle, high levels of screen time are overall more common in boys because of time spent playing video games. However, when it comes to high levels of screen time among girls, she says other factors that shape a person’s mental health need to be considered, such as having few friends or being less socially accepted.

“We do know that some forms of screen time can be beneficial, like maintaining connections with friends and family members online if we cannot see them in person, but there are other types of screen time that can be quite harmful,” she said. “There are many nuances that are not well understood yet and that are important to explore.” 


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