The happiest teens use smartphones, digital media less than an hour a day

SAN DIEGO — Worried about your child’s smartphone use getting out of hand? You should be. A new study finds that teens who are hooked on their phones and other digital devices are “markedly” unhappier than their less-plugged-in peers.

Researchers from San Diego State University and the University of Georgia examined data on more than a million 8th, 10th, and 12th grade American students participating in the longterm “Monitoring the Future” study. Participants were polled on their mobile device and computer use and their amount of face-to-face social interaction with others. They were also surveyed on their level of overall happiness.

Teen using computer, smartphone
Worried about your child’s smartphone use getting out of hand? You should be. A new study finds that teens who are hooked on their phones and other digital devices are “markedly” unhappier than their less-plugged-in peers. (Photo by Steinar Engeland on Unsplash)

The authors found that teens who spent more time hanging out with friends in person and less time texting or video chatting were happier than those who spent more time in front of a screen. There was a notable increase in overall life satisfaction for students who participated in more extracurricular activities or sports, as well as those who read actual print publications more frequently. The research team believes that habitual use of smartphones or computers to socialize was a key factor in how unhappy a participant felt.

“The key to digital media use and happiness is limited use,” says Jean M. Twenge, the study’s lead author a professor of psychology at SDSU, in a news release. “Aim to spend no more than two hours a day on digital media, and try to increase the amount of time you spend seeing friends face-to-face and exercising — two activities reliably linked to greater happiness.”

And while Twenge suggests allowing a maximum of two hours for screen time, she says the study showed that the happiest teens were those who spent a tad less than an hour per day on digital media. That statistic includes teens who report not using digital devices at all — which means some use of technology makes children happier. But after that first hour, unhappiness rose steadily among participants as their total screen time increased.

Twenge notes that while some studies have proven social media use can lead to greater unhappiness for a child, the study showed that being unhappy did not lead to more social media use.

Not surprisingly, the authors point out that studies have shown self-esteem and life satisfaction levels dropped sharply after 2012, which is the same year that the number of Americans who owned a smartphone jumped over 50 percent. To that point, her study only adds to the wealth of work that’s determined parents must monitor how much time their teens are spending online.

“The advent of the smartphone is the most plausible explanation for the sudden decrease in teens’ psychological well-being,” she says.


  1. Apparently when not protesting the US Constitution, David Hogg is on his smartphone and digital media 24 hours a day….that is the unhappiest little boy I have ever seen.

    1. he should go back on his happy Meds.. He looked like a screaming teenie off his MEDS !! Pass the Ritalin please..

    1. No “anti racists” say a 100% Black area needs more diversity.
      No “anti racists” say a 100% Asian area needs more diversity.
      According to “anti racists”, they are already 100% diverse.

      They say ALL & ONLY White populations need to be more diverse, and that White populations only stop needing to be more diverse when there are no White people left in them!

      Its Geno Cide
      Its Anti White

  2. I shut down my facebook account over a year ago now. I was tired of being barraged with abuse every time I tried to present even a centrist, let alone conservative point of view. I miss the local groups dedicated to things like gardening, but to be honest, not comparing myself subconsciously to “pinterest moms”, I’m happier. And those people who live tethered to their phones and do their darndest to project their “perfect” life at everyone else between trendy hashtag activism for “social justice”? I have heard through the analog rumor mill of at least three of the most “perfect” city-born wives/moms being divorced by their commonsense country boy husbands. Ha!

    1. Good for you. I finally tossed my TV in 1993 although I quit most viewing years before. The drama is fundamentally lying and the information was usually skewed if not outright incorrect. And it was depressing! We must all function in the real world and learning to react based upon phony experiences and incorrect data is to develop unnaturally, hindering life skill.

  3. This article is about digital media, not social media. That being said, I grew up in the 80’s and did what the study claims will make a ‘happier teen’. I was mostly anxious and depressed but thanks anyway.

    1. I grew up in the 80’s as well and we were too busy smoking pot , drinking beer and getting laid to worry about social media , you could not knock the smile off my face with sledge hammer that’s how happy we were.

  4. This is not a cause and affect thing. The happiest teens are happy because they have a life, the teens on facebook and other platforms don’t have a life. Using social media is not the cause of depression , depressed people use social media.

  5. About 5 ears ago I had to go to the mall where I saw something that is common. A group of maybe 6 teens standing together as if talking but every one of them was on his smart phone. This media, comments, often has very negative response as if people are generally much more prone to get angry and belittle than to enjoy and encourage others. I believe it’s the anonymity of the media mostly, but having the putdowns and rejections so much at a critical time in social development doesn’t seem like a good thing for most young people or society generally.

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