A recent study from researchers at San Diego State University and the University of Georgia suggests that lower smartphone use in teens is related to increased overall happiness.
Psychologists from San Diego State University and the University of Georgia used data and mood and media collected from over 1 million U.S. teens to understand why an overall increase in happiness suddenly changed course back in 2012 and continued to decline over the subsequent four years. It turns out that the lower smartphone use in the years before 2012 resulted in happier teens, and that as teenagers are more connected, they’re generally less happy.
TribLive reports that by 2012, half of all Americans (and around 37 percent of teens) owned a smartphone. That number skyrocketed over the next few years, with 77 percent of all Americans owning a smartphone and at least 73 percent of teens. The lower smartphone use before 2012 made for happier teens, and the increased adoption means decreased satisfaction overall.
This most recent study focused on a group of eighth, tenth, and twelfth graders responses to questions about how they felt about life and how they used their time. The results were pretty surprising, and found that between 1991 and 2016, adolescents who spent a larger portion of their day with electronic devices were less happy than their peers with lower smartphone use.
In addition to finding that those with high usage of electronics were unhappy, the study also showed that those with lower smartphone used tended to “profess greater happiness, higher self-esteem, and more satisfaction with their lives.”
The authors reported that “Every non-screen activity was correlated with greater happiness, and every screen activity was correlated with less happiness,” which seems pretty damning for electronics use and a valid argument for lower smartphone use in adolescents.
It’s important to note that the experience of specific teens may vary, as the study was unable to track a single group of children from year to year. But by taking a look at an overall image of teenagers in a specific year, there emerged a consistent pattern of lower smartphone user leading to happier teens, and high electronics usage making them less happy as a whole.
It’s been established for a good while that teen happiness has been in decline since 2012. Originally, the thought was that the decrease in happiness was due to a rise in income inequality due to the large recession around that time. But considering that employment peaked in 2010 and teen unhappiness didn’t decrease until a couple of years later in 2012, another explanation was needed. The happiness seemed to fall independent of any current events, so the fact that smartphone use was directly linked to lower satisfaction overall gives a viable explanation for this previously unexplained phenomenon.
The effects of technology on a teen’s well-being have been hotly contested for quite some time. While there’s a good amount of evidence at this point to show that lower use of electronics makes for a happier teen, studies have shown that use of social media can actually help the self-image of some teens. Our understanding of this part of adolescent psychology is still cloudy, and more research is required to further confirm the effects of smartphone use on teen health and well-being.