A new study from the University of Queensland (UQ) has linked harmful mental health effects for teenage girls with screen time exceeding two hours a day.
For teenage boys, the peer-reviewed meta-analysis found harmful mental health effects with daily screen time exceeding four hours (or 105 minutes).
UQ’s Associate Professor Asad Khan said his group of researchers found some benefits to the teens during the first hour of screen use but after 75 minutes girls experienced a negative impact on mental wellbeing.
To counter some of the negative effects of screen time, he recommended combining increased physical activity. This showed a gradual beneficial effect on the mental well being for all young people.
“Excess screen time effects can include depression, obesity, poor quality of life, unhealthy diet and decreased physical and cognitive abilities,” Dr Khan said.
“One hour of physical activity and no more than two hours of screen time a day provided optimal mental wellbeing.”
The study was published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health on Tuesday, and is the result of research collaborations between UQ, Queens University, the University of Ottawa, Canada, the University of New South Wales and Queensland University of Technology.
The international team investigated data from more than 577,000 adolescents aged 13-15 years from 42 high-income countries.
With more children and young people turning to technology for entertainment and recreation, Dr Khan said guidelines for limiting screen time and doing more physical activity could help to reduce the global mental health burden.
In Australia, current recommendations suggest capping recreation screen time for teens (which does not include time spent at a computer for study or work) to a maximum of two hours a day for girls and boys.
Daily physical activity should also factor in at least an hour a day for all teens, Dr Khan said.
“This work contributes towards global debate on ‘how much is too much’ for teen screen use and builds pressure to reduce recreational screen time and increase movement for the health and wellbeing of this paediatric population.
“More opportunities for families, communities and schools need to be created to encourage adolescents to alternate screen time with physical and outdoor activities, which also provides additional benefits such as social connections and skills.”