Electronic Media Increases Depression In Teens?

By Daniel A. Freeman |

I came across this article yesterday. It cites a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry Journal that found a link between teenage video game use and adult depression:

Researchers looked at the exposure to electronic media of 4,142 adolescents who were not depressed when the study began in 1995, before DVDs and the Internet were widely used.

The teens reported an average of 5.68 hours of media exposure per day, including 2.3 hours of television, 2.34 hours of radio, 0.62 hours of videocassettes and 0.41 hours of computer games.

Seven years later, when the participants were an average of 21.8 years old, 308 of them (7.4 percent) had developed symptoms consistent with depression.

"In the fully adjusted models, participants had significantly greater odds of developing depression by follow-up for each hour of daily television viewed," wrote the authors of the study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry journal.

I'm not a psychiatrist, and I think if your teenage daughter or son is consuming 5.68 hours of electronic media per day, you should probably be encouraging them to read a book or go exercise. Still, I feel that I can't go without pointing out the huge elephant in the room that is not addressed by this article or by the study:

Assuming that the findings of the report are true (for the record, I don't assume that, personally), isn't it likely that the positive aspects of electronic media consumption outweigh these negative effects?

This New York Times article discusses some very tangible positive effects on teenagers who use online networking sites. Gaming helps teach valuable problem solving skills. Computer use of any sort helps kids gain and cement computer skills that they are likely to need in the work world for the rest of their lives. Kids can get help with or even do their homework online. Kids can use the Internet to learn and research independently in ways that weren't even remotely possible ten years ago. Kids who use electronic media are more likely to encourage their parents to attain the same skills.

I don't doubt that if I were to consult with all of you, the list above could get quite a bit longer. The bottom line--of course parents need to make sure that their kids aren't spending too much time in front of the TV or the computer, but electronic media is not a bogeyman. I think whatever the negative consequences of electronic media consumption may be, they are far more nuanced than this article implies.