Amount of screen time and time in nature may affect psychological outcomes

Less screen time and more time in nature have been associated with better psychological outcomes among children and teens, according to a study published at the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Tassia Oswald at the University of Adelaide, and colleagues.

The incidence of mental illness among children and adolescents is growing globally. This mixture of high screen time and low time in nature may impact mental health and well-being. But research investigating the emotional impacts of display time or time in nature typically considers each element in isolation and neglects to delineate the reciprocal effects of high technology usage and low contact with nature on mental health and cognitive outcomes. To deal with this question, Oswald and colleagues examined the findings of 186 research studies to collate evidence analyzing associations between screen time, time in nature, and emotional outcomes (including mental health, cognitive functioning, and academic achievement) for both children and teens.

In general, high levels of screen time seemed to be related to adverse psychological outcomes, while time in nature appeared to be connected with favorable emotional outcomes. Young people from low socioeconomic backgrounds were underrepresented in the literature overall and may be disproportionately affected by high screen time and reduced time in nature, which makes this a priority group for future study. However, further afield studies and RCTs are needed to determine whether decreasing display time and increasing time in nature could enhance emotional outcomes. According to the authors, preliminary evidence suggests that time in nature may potentially buffer the consequences of high screen time, meaning nature may be an under-utilized public health resource to boost youth emotional well-being in a high-tech era. Investment in more rigorous research is needed to explore this.

Oswald adds: “This systematic scoping review highlights that nature may currently be an under-utilised public health resource, which could potentially function as an upstream preventative and psychological well-being promotion intervention for children and adolescents in a high-tech era. However, robust evidence is needed to guide policies and recommendations around appropriate screen time and green time at critical life stages, to ultimately ensure optimal psychological well-being for young people.”

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