A new international study of more than 577,000 school-aged children from 42 European and North American countries, has looked at the impact of prolonged screen time and insufficient physical activity on the mental wellbeing of adolescents.
Unsurprisingly, the research found that prolonged periods of screen time had negative impacts on the mental health of both boys and girls (including depression, anxiety and attention issues), whereas increased physical activity was associated with mental wellbeing.
Perhaps also unsurprising for some, was the finding that girls’ mental health is negatively impacted by screen time more quickly than that of boys.
The study found that girls start to experience the harmful mental health impacts of screen time after just two hours, whereas for boys it takes double the time.
The study’s lead author Dr Asad Khan, from the University of Queensland School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, said the passive nature of girls’ screen time may be the reason for this.
"Boys are doing more of active screen time for computer, electronic games, whereas girls are not doing that. Girls' [active] contribution is really low compared to the boys, so that may be why the passive screen time, which is television and social media, are the dominant component of the girls' screen time.”
We know that social media in particular negatively impacts mental health, especially for young girls, who are more susceptible to cyberbullying, sexualisation, self-esteem and body image issues. Excessive consumption of entertainment sexualising women or portraying harmful ideas about beauty, sex, relationships and so on, also takes its toll.
Dr Khan said one hour of physical activity and no more than two hours of screen time each day provided “optimal mental wellbeing”, and urged parents to help achieve this balance for their kids.
"We need to invest in this if we want to see a healthier lifestyle for our kids in the future," he said.