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There May Be a 'Sweet Spot' for Teens' Screen Time

New findings out of the UK show that there may be a digital "sweet spot" where screen time is not harmful and could even benefit teens' well being.

teens looking at tablet Pressmaster/Shutterstock
As parents, it's only natural for us to worry about how much time our kids are spending in front of screens. But according to new research out of Oxford University, we may be overthinking it. Because after studying a large group of adolescents in the UK, researchers found that screen time may actually be beneficial, even at high levels of engagement.

Hear that sound? It's a collective sigh of relief.

"Previous research has oversimplified the relationship between digital screen time and the mental well being of teenagers," explained psychological scientist Andrew Przybylski, lead researcher on the study. "Depending on who you ask they're either part of creating a generation of so-called digital natives or a bogey man who may dispose young people to all kinds of delinquencies."

So true! Which is why Przybylski et al decided to conduct their own research by quizzing more than 120,000 15-year-olds about their screen use. And while almost all—99.9 percent!—of the teens reported spending time using at least one type of digital technology on a daily basis, the researchers discovered that there was a "sweet spot" when it came to engagement, meaning the teens' well being increased as their screen time increased up to a certain point, before it started falling again.

So where was the tipping point? On weekdays, it came at around 1 hour and 40 minutes for video games, 1 hour 57 minutes on smartphones, 3 hours and 41 minutes of watching videos, and 4 hours and 17 minutes of using computers.

"Overall we found that modern use of digital technology is not intrinsically harmful and may have advantages in a connected world unless digital devices are overused or interfere with schoolwork or after-school activities," Przybylski explained. "Our research suggests that some connectivity is probably better than none, and there are moderate levels that, as in the story of Goldilocks, are just right for young people."

It's worth noting that the study did not take into account whether physical health was affected by too much screen time.

Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and mom of two who writes about parenting and pop culture. Check out her website holleeactmanbecker.com for more, and then follow her on Instagram and Twitter.