The Goldilocks Principle: How much screen-time is 'just right'?

How much screen-time is “just right” for your child? Applying the Goldilocks Principle to children’s device use means figuring out where their individual sweet spot lies: not too much, not too little, but just right. 

Every digital parent alive worries about too much time online. But a new Australian study shows that there’s such a thing as not enough time online.

Specifically, researchers that phone use actually helped teens cope better with stress.

But there was a caveat: that use needed to be “moderate.” Goldilocks would have understood.

The study, published in Clinical Psychological Science and conducted by researchers at Griffith University’s Menzies Health and Institute and School of Applied Psychology, followed 200 teens from low socio-economic backgrounds after they were given iPhones - and asked to log their phone-time plus any stressors they encountered and their corresponding mood states. 

Researchers found that those in the moderate-use category recovered from stressful situations more quickly and reported less sadness and worry.

The students were then sorted into those who spent excessive time on their devices, those who used them moderately, and those who didn’t use them at all. (Yes, there actually were some!)

Researchers found that those in the moderate-use category recovered from stressful situations more quickly and reported less sadness and worry compared to the other two groups.

Kids were getting emotional support online through messaging and social media, as well as accessing information and using games and other forms of online entertainment to de-stress.

"Adolescents are smart, and they make use of technology to their own advantage,” notes lead author Kathryn Modecki.

problematic-teenager-using-smartphone-P3QU2GZ

"There has been a tendency to assume that technology use by teens is negative and harmful, but such a broad assumption isn't borne out by what we know about the developmental stage of adolescence.”

Other recent research conducted during the pandemic bears out these findings. 

"The pandemic has really highlighted the way social media allows teenagers to stay connected with their friends - and even in 'normal times' it can reduce isolation and be a source of support,” agrees parenting expert Liat Hughes Joshi, author of Five Minute Parenting Fixes

"Peer relationships are hugely important at this age and digital communications can deepen and strengthen existing friendships, and allow them a wider pool to find like-minded friends from."

All of that said, the Griffith research does raise two further questions. First, how might the study participants’ economic disadvantage have influenced the findings? And second, did moderate use truly help kids handle stress - or were the moderate users simply kids who were already good at handling stress?

As they say in the classics, “further study is needed.”

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Topics: Cyber Bullying, Parental Controls, Screen time, Mobile Apps, Excessive Device Usage, stress, moderation, Goldilocks Principle

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