Catherine Scott: Why a new study that says screen time and social media has no impact on our teenagers isn't helpful for parents

We are no strangers to the varying opinions about what is good and not good for us when it comes to food and drink. One day red wine is bad for us the next day it reduces heart disease and so on.

Social media sites like Facebook not affecting our teenagers

However, now studies are turning their attention, not before time, to the dangers of screen time and social media. As parents we have constantly been told to monitor screen time of our children. We are bombarded with advice and made to feel guilty if we are not constantly clock watching and then banning our young people from technology. Any parent of teenagers will know how difficult this is and also be familiar with the battles that ensue when trying to prize them away from the umbilical chord that is their mobile phone. However it now seems that all that heartache could have been for nothing.

Eight year study

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Researchers from the University of Oxford have been carrying out an eight year study into 12,000 teenagers and the effect that screen time, in particular social media has on our youngsters.Apparently spending more time on sites such as Facebook has a limited impact on how content adolescents are with their lives.Professor Andrew Przybylski, who led the study said the findings suggest society should “retire the screen time notion”, and instead focus on whether particular aspects of online behaviour are harmful.“Applying transparent and innovative statistical approaches we show that social media effects are not a one-way street, they are nuanced, reciprocal, possibly contingent on gender, and arguably trivial in size,” the authors wrote.Previous research was largely based on correlations, the researchers said, making it difficult to determine whether social media use led to changes in life satisfaction, or changes in life satisfaction influence social media use.

Noisy nonsense

Lower life satisfaction led to an increase in social media use and social media use led to lower life satisfaction, but the trends were only “modest”, the authors said. These effects were more evident in girls than boys.He describes screen time as “statistically noisy nonsense”, adding: “On an individual basis, time shouldn’t be the thing that parents are worrying about.” He says more emphasis should be placed on exactly what adolescents are viewing as opposed to the time spent on social media. But the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health maintain that screen time should still be limited. While I welcome anything that furthers our knowledge of the effect that social media has on our children, all I ask is that the experts try to sing from the same hymn sheet and not make it even harder for parents.