The prevalence of mental illness among children and adolescents is on a global increase, with depression and anxiety being the leading causes of reduced quality of life among children and adolescents. Young people’s engagement with screen-based technologies (referred to as ‘screen time’) has risen due to technological advancements in recent decades, and a drop in young people’s contact with nature (referred to as ‘green time’) has been seen at the same time. This combination of high screen time and low green time may affect mental health and wellbeing.
Previous research investigating the psychological impacts of screen time or green time usually only consider each factor by itself and does not outline the reciprocal effects of high technology use and low contact with nature on mental health and cognitive outcomes. To address this question, the researchers of this paper analysed the results of 186 studies to gather evidence assessing associations between screen time, green time, and psychological outcomes (including mental health, cognitive functioning, and academic achievement) for children and adolescents. This current study is referred to as a ‘systematic scoping review’ because a systematic approach has been used to identify, include, and extract data from studies. Of the 186 studies analysed, 114 were studies looking at screen time, 58 were studies looking at green time, and 14 were studies looking at both screen time and green time. The four databases used to extract these studies and data were PubMed, PsycINFO, Embase, and Scopus.
The results of this review were mainly distinguished by age groups; this included young children (<5years), schoolchildren (5-11 years), early adolescents (12-14 years), and older adolescents (15-18 years). The main consensus of the results suggest that screen time and green time are associated with psychological outcomes in contrasting ways; screen time is mostly associated with unfavourable psychological outcomes such as poor mental health, emotional problems, and sleeplessness, while green time is mostly associated with favourable psychological outcomes such as healthier cortisol profiles (indicative of reduced stress), greater cognitive functioning and happiness. The combination of high screen time and low green time seen in children and adolescents of nowadays may be especially harmful to their psychological wellbeing. As such, it was important to consider the reciprocal effects of both screen time and green time on children and adolescents’ psychological outcomes.
Young people from low socioeconomic backgrounds were underrepresented in this study overall and may be disproportionately affected by high screen time and low green time, and so this makes them a priority group for future research. However, additional longitudinal studies and randomised controlled trials are required to determine whether decreasing screen time and increasing green time would improve psychological outcomes. According to the researchers, preliminary evidence suggests that green time could potentially buffer the consequences of high screen time, meaning nature may currently be an under-utilised public health resource, and it could potentially function as an upstream preventative and psychological wellbeing promotion intervention for children and adolescents in a high-tech era. However, investment in more rigorous research is needed to explore this.
Original Source: Oswald TK, Rumbold AR, Kedzior SGE and Moore VM. (2020). “Psychological impacts of “screen time” and “green time” for children and adolescents: A systematic scoping review”. PLoS ONE 15,9.