The more time teens spend watching television or playing on a computer, the more likely they are to report difficulty forming a relationship or emotional bond with their parents.
The risk of having low attachment to parents increased 4 per cent for every hour spent viewing television and 5 per cent for every hour spent playing on a computer, according to a study of more than 3,000 adolescents in New Zealand.
Conversely, teens who spend more time reading and doing homework reported a higher level of attachment to parents.
“The more time spent watching television or playing on a computer, the more likely teens were to report low attachment to parents”
The researchers also assessed interview responses from an earlier study (1987-1988) and discovered that among these teens, more time spent viewing television was associated with lower attachment to both parents and peers. For every additional hour of television, teens had a 13 percent increased risk of low attachment to their parents and a 24 percent increased risk of low attachment to peers.
“Recommendations that children watch less television are sometimes met with the concern that being unable to discuss popular shows or characters may inhibit peer relationships,” said the study’s authors. “[Our findings] do not suggest that less television viewing is detrimental to adolescent friendships.”
“Concern about high levels of screen time among adolescents is warranted”
There are several potential factors behind the relationship between increased screen time and poorer relationships. For instance, teens who have televisions in their bedrooms also may share fewer meals with family members.
The study acknowledges, however, that adolescents with poor relationships with friends and family may use screen-based activities to facilitate new attachment figures such as “online friendships or parasocial relationships with television characters or personalities”.
The authors conclude that given the importance of attachment to parents and peers in adolescent health and development, “concern about high levels of screen time among adolescents is warranted“.
“With the rapid advance of screen-based options for entertainment, communication and education, ongoing research is needed to monitor the effect that these technologies have on social development and psychological and physical wellbeing among adolescents.”
The report appeared in the March 2011 issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.