1. Study finds more screen time correlated with less happiness in young people

    February 13, 2018 by Ashley

    From the San Diego State University press release:

    Happiness is not a warm phone, according to a new study exploring the link between adolescent life satisfaction and screen time. Teens whose eyes are habitually glued to their smartphones are markedly unhappier, said study lead author and San Diego State University and professor of psychology Jean M. Twenge.

    To investigate this link, Twenge, along with colleagues Gabrielle Martin at SDSU and W. Keith Campbell at the University of Georgia, crunched data from the Monitoring the Future (MtF) longitudinal study, a nationally representative survey of more than a million U.S. 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders. The survey asked students questions about how often they spent time on their phones, tablets and computers, as well as questions about their in-the-flesh social interactions and their overall happiness.

    On average, they found that teens who spent more time in front of screen devices — playing computer games, using social media, texting and video chatting — were less happy than those who invested more time in non-screen activities like sports, reading newspapers and magazines, and face-to-face social interaction.

    Twenge believes this screen time is driving unhappiness rather than the other way around.

    “Although this study can’t show causation, several other studies have shown that more social media use leads to unhappiness, but unhappiness does not lead to more social media use,” said Twenge, author of “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — And Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.”

    Total screen abstinence doesn’t lead to happiness either, Twenge found. The happiest teens used digital media a little less than an hour per day. But after a daily hour of screen time, unhappiness rises steadily along with increasing screen time, the researchers report today in the journal Emotion.

    “The key to digital media use and happiness is limited use,” Twenge said. “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.”

    Looking at historical trends from the same age groups since the 1990s, the researchers found that the proliferation of screen devices over time coincided with a general drop-off in reported happiness in U.S. teens. Specifically, young people’s life satisfaction, self-esteem and happiness plummeted after 2012. That’s the year that the percentage of Americans who owned a smartphone rose above 50 percent, Twenge noted.

    “By far the largest change in teens’ lives between 2012 and 2016 was the increase in the amount of time they spent on digital media, and the subsequent decline in in-person social activities and sleep,” she said. “The advent of the smartphone is the most plausible explanation for the sudden decrease in teens’ psychological well-being.”


  2. Study suggests teenagers are sophisticated users of social media

    February 8, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Taylor & Francis Group press release:

    Teenagers are far more critical users of social media than we give them credit for, and need to be better supported in reaping the benefits social media can have.

    A new study published today in Sport, Education and Society sheds light upon teens’ online habits, finding that young people are not simply passive recipients of all the content available online, as commonly thought.

    Analyzing 1,300 responses from teenagers aged 13 to 18 from ten UK schools, researchers set out to discover how young people engaged with health-related social media, and understand the influence this had on their behaviors and knowledge about health.

    They discovered that most teenagers would ‘swipe past’ health-related content that was not relevant to them, such as ‘suggested’ or ‘recommended’ content, deeming it inappropriate for their age group.

    Many were also highly critical of celebrity-endorsed content, with one participant referring to the celebrity lifestyle as ‘a certain lifestyle that we are not living’, because they were more likely to be ‘having surgery’ than working out in the gym.

    However, many participants still found it difficult to distinguish between celebrity-endorsed content and that posted by sportsmen and women, leaving them vulnerable to celebrity influence.

    The pressure of peers’ ‘selfies’, which often strived for perfection, and the complex social implications of ‘liking’ each other’s posts, were recurring themes in the young people’s responses. Both of these activities had the potential to alter teenagers’ health-related behaviors.

    Lead author Dr Victoria Goodyear, of the University of Birmingham, emphasized the need to be more aware of both the positive and negative impacts social media can have upon young people. She said: “We know that many schools, teachers and parents/guardians are concerned about the health-related risks of social media on young people.

    “But, contrary to popular opinion, the data from our study show that not all young people are at risk from harmful health-related impacts. Many young people are critical of the potentially damaging information that is available.”

    Despite teenagers’ ability to assess content, the study emphasizes that adults still have a crucial role to play in supporting young people, and helping them to understand how harmful health-related information might reach them.

    Professor Kathleen Armour, the University of Birmingham’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, adds: “It is important to be aware that teenagers can tip quickly from being able to deal competently with the pressures of social media to being overwhelmed.

    “If they are vulnerable for any reason, the sheer scale and intensity of social media can exacerbate the ‘normal’ challenges of adolescence. Adult vigilance and understanding are, therefore, vital.”

    Dr Goodyear suggests that adults should not ban or prevent young people’s uses of social media, given that it provides significant learning opportunities. Instead, schools and parents/guardians should focus on young people’s experiences with social media, helping them to think critically about the relevance of what they encounter, and understand both the positive and harmful effects this information could have.

    Crucially, these discussions must be introduced into the classroom to help address the current gap which exists between the ways in which young people and adults understand social media.


  3. Study suggests link between gambling participation and low academic performance

    January 21, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Springer press release:

    The odds are stacked against teenagers who regularly gamble. A new study in Springer’s Journal of Gambling Studies shows that a 14-year-old who gambles is more likely to struggle at school. The study was led by Frank Vitaro of the University of Montreal, Sainte-Justine Hospital Research Center and the Research Unit on Children’s Psychosocial Maladjustment in Canada.

    In this long-term population-based study, 766 Canadian children were assessed when they were 14 and 17 years old through self-reports and responses from their parents. They were questioned about their gambling habits and academic performance with a focus on how many different types of gambling activities they participated in, rather than how often they gambled. This is because a diversity in someone’s gambling habits has been found to better predict whether someone will develop gambling problems.

    Information about the social status and structure of the families the children grew up in was also gathered from their parents. This took account of the level of education that the children’s parents had attained, and the jobs they held.

    A significant, albeit modest, correlation was found between a teenager who gambled at the age of 14 and 17 and his or her subsequent academic performance. Young people who already gambled regularly by the time they were 14 years old most often also saw a drop in their academic performance in the years following.

    Vitaro says that teenagers’ gambling activities after school hours often take up much of the time they might otherwise have spent on school-related work. Many gamblers are also known to skip classes.

    He explains that through gambling, adolescents are also often exposed to antisocial peer groups, which in turn might diminish school engagement and school performance, either directly or through the increase of behavioral and social problems.

    “Our results also confirm the pervasive role of socio-familial risk, which has been related to both elevated levels of gambling involvement and low academic performance among adolescents in previous studies,” says Vitaro, who adds that personal factors such as impulsivity also play a role.

    “From a clinical perspective, these findings suggest that children living in an unfavorable environment and manifesting high levels of impulsivity should be targeted for early prevention purposes,” adds Vitaro. “Failing early prevention, reducing gambling involvement may also curb to some extent the decline in academic performance.”


  4. Study suggests adolescent brain makes learning easier

    January 9, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Leiden Universiteit press release:

    The brains of adolescents react more responsively to receiving rewards. This can lead to risky behaviour, but, according to Leiden University research, it also has a positive function: it makes learning easier. This work has been published in Nature Communications.

    Alcohol abuse, reckless behaviour and poor choice in friends: all these are inextricably linked to puberty and adolescence. In the late teens, young people test their limits, and in many cases, push beyond their limits. This is due in part to increased activity in the corpus striatum, a small area deeply hidden away inside the brain. According to previous research, that part of the brain in young people is more responsive to receiving rewards.

    Sensitive

    Leiden University scientists are now able to show that this increased activity in the corpus striatum does not have only negative consequences. ‘The adolescent brain is very sensitive to feedback,’ says Sabine Peters, assistant professor of developmental and educational psychology and lead author of the article. ‘That makes adolescence the ideal time to acquire and retain new information.’

    Peters used a large data set for her research with MRI scans. Over a period of five years, no fewer than 736 brain scans were made of a total of 300 subjects between the ages of 8 and 29. According to Peters, the data set is about ten times larger than that of most comparable studies. In the MRI scanner, participants had to solve a memory game. During that game, the researchers gave feedback on the participants’ performance.

    Instructional feedback

    ‘It showed that adolescents responded keenly to educational feedback’, says Peters. ‘If the adolescent received useful feedback, then you saw the corpus striatum being activated. This was not the case with less pertinent feedback, for example, if the test person already knew the answer. The stronger your brain recognises that difference, the better the performance in the learning task. Brain activation could even predict learning performance two years into the future.’

    It has been known for some time that adolescent brains become more ‘successful’ when they receive the same reward as small children or adults. For example, it has already been proven that the use of drugs and/or alcohol in the teenage years is linked to powerful activation in the brain’s reward system. Peters: ‘It explains why adolescents and young adults go on a voyage of discovery, with all the positive and negative consequences that entails. You see the same behaviour in many animal species, including rats and mice.’


  5. Study suggests graphic anti-smoking posters may actually backfire

    December 30, 2017 by Ashley

    From the RAND Corporation press release:

    Exposing teens to graphic anti-smoking posters may actually increase the risk that some start smoking, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

    Conducted in a one-of-a-kind laboratory that replicates a convenience store, the study found that some teens who viewed posters depicting gruesome displays of smoking-caused diseases actually reported being more susceptible to cigarette smoking after viewing the displays during a shopping trip.

    The negative effects were found among teens who, before viewing the posters, reported being at some risk for smoking. The graphic posters did not appear to have any effect on teens who were committed to never smoking.

    “Our findings are counter intuitive and suggest that some anti-smoking strategies may actually go too far,” said William Shadel, lead author of the study and a senior behavioral scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.

    The study is published online by the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

    Most of the tobacco industry’s advertising spending is focused on point-of-sale retail locations such as convenience stores. These outlets are awash in posters for tobacco products, signs for price promotions and the tobacco power wall — the display of cigarettes and other tobacco products that is prominent behind the checkout counter.

    Studies indicate that most adolescents visit locations that sell tobacco on a near weekly basis, placing them at significant risk for repeated exposure to tobacco advertising. Numerous studies have linked such exposures to more-positive attitudes toward smoking among adolescents.

    In response, some jurisdictions have proposed that graphic cigarette warning posters be displayed alongside the tobacco power wall and near the cash register. New York City mandated such warnings in 2009, but courts voided the regulation after lawsuits initiated by the tobacco industry.

    For the RAND study, researchers had teens visit a replica of a convenience store to buy a few items. With about half of the teens, the checkout counter or the wall behind the cash register displayed a prominent poster showing a photo of a diseased mouth and the words “WARNING: Cigarettes cause cancer.”

    The poster used was drawn from among nine that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had intended to put on cigarette packages and was the one had been rated as the most effective image by adolescents in previous research.

    The 441 adolescents aged 11 to 17 who participated in the RAND experiment were surveyed about their attitudes toward cigarette smoking and asked about other items both before and after shopping in the replica convenience store. About 5 percent of the participants reported prior cigarette smoking and about 20 percent were considered at-risk for future cigarette smoking before visiting the convenience store.

    Researchers say their analysis found that rather than disrupting the positive point-of-sale advertising in the convenience store, the graphic anti-smoking poster seemed to further heighten the smoking susceptibility of adolescents already considered at-risk for future tobacco use.

    “It is possible that at-risk adolescents responded to the graphic warning posters in a defensive manner, causing them to discount or downplay the health risks portrayed in the poster,” Shadel said. “It may also be possible that the graphic posters caused adolescents to divert their attention to the tobacco power wall, where they were exposed to pro-tobacco messages.”

    Researcher say that a shortcoming of their study is that they tested only one anti-smoking poster with the adolescents and they did not experiment with a variety of poster sizes or a greater variety of store placement.

    “Our findings do suggest that policymakers should be careful when considering graphic warning posters as part of anti-tobacco education in retail environments,” Shadel said. “This type of action either needs additional research or potentially should be abandoned in favor of better-demonstrated anti-smoking efforts.”


  6. Study suggests teens who help strangers have more confidence

    December 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Brigham Young University press release:

    Tis the season for helping at a soup kitchen, caroling at a care facility or shoveling a neighbor’s driveway.

    While those gifts of self surely help others, new research suggests that such selfless and serving behaviors have a specific benefit to teens.

    BYU School of Family Life professor Laura Padilla-Walker, in a longitudinal study she coauthored with a former student (Xinyuan Fu, Central University of Finance and Economics, China) in the Journal of Adolescence, found that adolescents who exhibited prosocial behavior — such as helping, sharing and comforting — toward strangers had higher self-esteem a year later. The same was not true for those in the study who exhibited prosocial behavior solely to friends and family.

    “This study helps us to understand that young people who help those with whom they do not have a relationship report feeling better about themselves over time,” Padilla-Walker said. “Given the importance of self-esteem during the teen years, this is an important finding. It suggests there might be something about helping strangers that impacts one’s moral identity or perceptions of self in a more significant way than helping friends or family members, although these are beneficial behaviors as well.”

    Padilla-Walker has authored multiple studies looking at prosocial behavior. While she’s found that teens who exhibit these positive behaviors stay out of trouble and have better familial relationships, this was her first time tying it to self-esteem.

    In the study, researchers looked at 681 adolescents, 11-14 years old, in two U.S. cities. They tracked them for four different time points, starting in 2008 through 2011. The participants responded to 10 statements such as “I feel useless at times” or “I am satisfied with myself” to assess self-esteem. Prosocial behavior was measured by self-reports, looking at various aspects of kindness and generosity, such as “I help people I don’t know, even if it’s not easy for me” or “I go out of my way to cheer up my friends” or “I really enjoy doing small favors for my family.”

    “A unique feature of this study is that it explores helping behaviors toward multiple different targets,” Padilla-Walker said. “Not all helping is created equal, and we’re finding that prosocial behavior toward strangers is protective in a variety of ways that is unique from other types of helping. Another important finding is that the link between prosocial behavior and self-esteem is over a one-year time period and present across all three age lags in our study. Though not an overly large effect, this suggests a stable link between helping and feeling better about oneself across the early adolescent years.”

    For many adolescents, this time of life can be confusing for them. In a state of such self-exploration and self-identification, Padilla-Walker suggests that helping your kids find confidence, self-respect and self-worth can be of monumental importance.

    “For teens who sometimes have a tendency to focus on themselves, parents can help by providing opportunities for their children to help and serve others who are less fortunate,” Padilla-Walker said. “It is best if teens can directly see the benefit of their help on others. This can increase gratitude in young people and help them to focus less on their own problems. It is also a way to help them meet new friends or spend time with family. A family tradition of helping those who are less fortunate throughout the year or during the holidays is a great way to instill in children a desire to serve and a greater sense of self-worth.”


  7. Study suggests experiencing violence as a teen may lead to earlier romantic relationships

    December 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Sociological Association (ASA) press release:

    A new study has found that experiencing violence as an adolescent leads to early romantic relationships and cohabitating. On average, they found that victimized youth entered romantic relationships nine months earlier than non-victimized youth.

    “Overall, we find that victims begin dating sooner and progress more quickly from dating to first unions than do non-victims,” the researchers report in their article.

    “We theorize that these relationships could be a feasible coping mechanism because dating is more normative during adolescence,” said David Warner, Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He explained that relationships can provide “a source of social support, a resource for instilling and improving self-esteem… particularly for these older adolescent victims who are also on the precipice of a number of developmental changes as they enter into high school.”

    The impact, however, depended on what age the violence episodes occurred. Those victimized in early adolescence are more likely to withdraw from dating and union formation whereas late adolescent victims appear to “overinvest in relationships—at least temporarily—displaying accelerated entry into dating and rapid progression to first unions.”

    To assess victimization, the researchers used data from adolescents who reported direct experience with four types of trauma including being “jumped,” shot, stabbed, or threatened by a knife or gun.

    However, Warner cautions, that while entering into relationships may seem healthy, entering them on average nine months earlier may be problematic. Nine months he says is “a whole different story for someone twelve or thirteen than for someone in their thirties.”

    In addition to dating, the study showed that victims of violence also began cohabiting more quickly than their peers – again, nine months early.

    “They start forming unions about nine months earlier too so, you’re really talking sort of 18 months ahead of schedule,” noted Tara Warner, the study’s lead author, also of the University of Nebraska.

    The differences they found varied by age but not gender, which surprised the researchers.

    “We speculate that may be due to just the overwhelming effect of violent victimization,” said Tara Warner.

    The researchers, along with Danielle C. Kuhl of Bowling Green State University, used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. The results of their study, “Cut to the Quick: The Consequences of Youth Violent Victimization for the Timing of Dating Debut and First Union Formation,” were published in the December American Sociological Review.

    Past research shows that early cohabitation is fraught with risks including an increased risk of experiencing intimate partner violence, communication problems, and other negative outcomes.

    Tara Warner warns that both withdrawal and increased social activity could be symptomatic. For adolescents who are accelerating through relationships, she suggests the best advice is to “slow down.”

    “If [young people] can slow down a little bit, the literature would suggest that would be the most positive outcome.”


  8. Study suggests smartphone addiction creates imbalance in brain

    December 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Radiological Society of North America press release:

    Researchers have found an imbalance in the brain chemistry of young people addicted to smartphones and the internet, according to a study presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).


  9. Study suggests teens get more sleep when school starts later

    December 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Penn State press release:

    A later school start time could mean teens are more likely to get adequate amounts of sleep, according to Penn State researchers.

    In a national study of urban teenagers, researchers found that high school start times after 8:30 a.m. increased the likelihood that teens obtained the minimum recommended amount of sleep, benefiting their overall health and well being.

    “Teens starting school at 8:30 a.m. or later were the only group with an average time in bed permitting eight hours of sleep, the minimum recommended by expert consensus,” said lead author Orfeu Buxton, associate professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State. “Later school start times were associated with later wake times in our large, diverse sample.”

    Buxton and colleagues report their findings Dec. 1 in Sleep Health, the Journal of the National Sleep Foundation, which devoted an entire special issue to the topic.

    Teens with the earliest high school start times — 7:00-7:29 a.m. — obtained 46 minutes less time in bed on average compared with teens with high school start times at 8:30 a.m. or later.

    School start times after 8:30 a.m. were associated with increased time in bed, extending morning sleep by 27-57 minutes compared to those teens with earlier school start times.

    A common argument against later school start times is an assumption that teens will just stay up later.

    “The presumption is if you let kids start school later they will simply go to sleep later and still not get enough sleep,” Buxton said. “But that’s a hypothetical scenario. There wasn’t data to back that up.”

    While researchers did find that teens with the earliest school start times were going to bed earlier than those with 8:30 a.m. or later, the teens with earlier start times still did not get the recommended amount of sleep. Only those teens with schools that had a start time of 8:30 a.m. or later actually got the recommended amount of sleep, Buxton said.

    One theory is that, despite going to bed earlier than their peers, teens with the earliest school start times didn’t get enough sleep possibly due to anticipation of an early wake time the following morning, according to Buxton.

    In addition, the investigators considered other research that looked at teens’ “sleep debt,” where teens make up for lost sleep on non-school days, leading them to wake up consistently and significantly later than those on school days.

    Both anticipation and sleep debt can misalign teens’ circadian clocks from expected early wake timing on school days, interfering with having consistent sleep.

    Four hundred and thirteen teenagers completed an online daily diary each evening, beginning after 7 p.m., during seven consecutive days, including school days and non-school days during both the academic year and the summer, which was defined as September through May and June through August, respectively.

    From each diary entry, researchers looked at the participants’ reports of the previous night’s bedtime, the time the teen woke up in the morning, whether or not the teen went to school, and the school start times.

    Data collection included daily diary data from a subsample of the parent study, the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, which follows a longitudinal birth cohort of children born between 1998 and 2000 in 20 United States cities.


  10. Study links teenage depression to father’s depression

    November 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University College London press release:

    Adolescents whose fathers have depressive symptoms are more likely to experience symptoms of depression themselves, finds a new study led by UCL researchers.

    While the link between mothers’ depression and depression in their children is well-established, the new Lancet Psychiatry study is the first to find an association between depression in fathers and their teenaged children, independent of whether the mother has depression, in a large sample in the general population. The effects of fathers’ and mothers’ depression on their children’s symptoms were similar in magnitude.

    “There’s a common misconception that mothers are more responsible for their children’s mental health, while fathers are less influential — we found that the link between parent and teen depression is not related to gender,” said the study’s lead author, Dr Gemma Lewis (UCL Psychiatry).

    “Family-focused interventions to prevent depression often focus more on mothers, but our findings suggest we should be just as focused on fathers,” she said.

    The researchers drew on two large longitudinal studies of children: Growing up in Ireland, and the Millennium Cohort Study in England and Wales, using data from 6070 and 7768 families from the two studies, respectively. Parental depressive symptoms were assessed using a questionnaire when the children were 9 and 7 years old in the two cohorts, and then adolescent depressive symptoms were assessed when the children were 13 and 14 years old. The study samples were population-based, meaning they included people who experienced symptoms of depression but had not sought treatment.

    After adjusting for confounding factors such as maternal depression, family income and parental alcohol use, the researchers found that for every 3-point (one standard deviation) increase on the Mood and Feelings Questionnaire (MFQ; a commonly-used measure of depressive symptoms) on the part of fathers, there was an associated 0.2-point increase in the adolescent’s MFQ score. The findings were replicated in both independent study samples.

    Incidence of depression increases markedly at the beginning of adolescence, so the researchers say that understanding the risk factors at that age can be key to preventing depression later in life.

    “Men are less likely to seek treatment for depression. If you’re a father who hasn’t sought treatment for your depression, it could have an impact on your child. We hope that our findings could encourage men who experience depressive symptoms to speak to their doctor about it,” said Dr Lewis.

    Previous studies have shown links between paternal depression and poor behavioural and emotional outcomes in their children, but no large study in the general population (as opposed to a clinical population) has looked at the link with adolescent depression while taking into account maternal depression as well.

    “The mental health of both parents should be a priority for preventing depression among adolescents. There has been far too much emphasis on mothers but fathers are important as well,” said the study’s senior author, Professor Glyn Lewis (UCL Psychiatry).