Most teens have a healthy relationship with technology

MADISON, Erase. (WIFR) – Parents play a major role in whether teens’ use of digital technology is healthy or at risk, according to a new study from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

Researchers looked at the digital media use and family dynamics of nearly 4,000 pairs, each consisting of a parent and a teen. The nationwide study led by Dr. Megan Moreno, professor of pediatrics and head of the Social Media and Adolescent Health Research Team at the UW School of Medicine.

Based on findings of the study, Moreno says screen time isn’t the sole indicator of whether a person has a healthy relationship with technology. While more than half, about 63% of teens were considered to be “family engaged” group which included modeling from parents on what kind of content was appropriate, the other 37% were categorized as “at risk.”

Findings showed parents unable to control their own social media use, rules revolved solely around screen time or no rules at all for digital content.

“We found that [household] rules that focused on the content of technology, that focused on ongoing communication with parents – those rules were more effective than rules around screen time,” said Moreno.

There’s no rule book on how to parent, yet it’s important for parents to understand that no matter what age, their kids are watching for guidance and parent’s behavior directly impacts their children.

“Our study illustrates that the risks and benefits of technology use are not the same for every individual adolescent,” said Moreno. “Parents set the tone for healthy technology use, and this includes how parents use their own phones.”

At a time when digital communication is more central than ever, health outcomes for teens including sleep, problematic internet use and mental health are paramount.

The “family engaged” teens were more likely to have family-owned devices, household media rules centered on content, positive parent relationships and lower parental social media use. These teens reported better health outcomes, healthy attitudes toward their body image and were more likely to “co-watch” content with their parents.

The “at risk” teens reported higher rates of personal ownership of devices, higher rates of depression, anxiety and unhealthy body image. Their parents tended to use social media more frequently than parents in the “engaged” group.

According to Moreno, there are three key behaviors associated with better well-being around technology use.

Tips for parents include labeling family-owned technology devices, rather than individually owned. Also, holding firm on household rules centered on content, not screen time.

Being aware, as parents, of their own technology and social media use, particularly at home. Other members of the research team are Dr. Yalda Uhls, of UCLA, and Kole Binger, Qianqian Zhao, Dr. Jen Eickhoff, and Matt Minich, of UW-Madison.

The study was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research: Parenting and Pediatrics.

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