For parents worried about their kids’ mental health, especially due to the pandemic and its social distancing requirements, more extracurricular activities and less screen time might be one answer.
According to a new study from the University of British Columbia, published in the journal Preventive Medicine, teens, especially girls, who spent fewer than two hours a day on screens and more time in extracurricular activities have better mental health. Less screen time and more extracurriculars were associated with increased levels of optimism and overall life satisfaction, and lower levels of depression and anxiety.
Teens spend more time on their screens than ever
Some of the study’s findings were expected; it was no surprise that students with no extracurricular activities spent more time on their screens. What was surprising was exactly how much time kids are spending on their screens these days.
Sixty-seven percent of students who did not participate in extracurricular activities exceeded the recommended two hours daily limit of screen time recommended by the Canadian Pediatric Society. While forty-six percent of students who did engage in extracurricular activities still exceeded the recommended limit. This data is consistent with research from other studies that have shown that recreational screen time usage among teens has increased over the past decade.
These new findings can help parents structure their teens’ days appropriately
Two things to note about the study. First, it was conducted before the pandemic. Second, it used self-reported data from a pool of 28,000 seventh grade students in British Columbia. Self-reported data means that the research was dependent on students voluntarily answering questions about how much time they spent on screens and on reporting what extracurricular activities they participated in.
Despite these caveats, the lead author, Dr. Eva Oberle, believes that the findings are even more relevant post-pandemic given how much more time teens may currently be spending on screens due to clubs, sports and other programs being cancelled.
According to the study, the research,
…emphasizes that extracurricular activities are an asset for thriving in adolescence. While past studies have highlighted the importance of extracurricular activities for social, emotional and academic development, the present study emphasizes their importance for positive mental health outcomes.Dr. Eva Oberle
For worried parents, this can come as hopeful news and can help guide them in structuring their child’s day with best mental health outcomes in mind.