Links between screen use and depressive symptoms in adolescents over 16 years: is there evidence for increased harm?

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

January 15, 2021


Recent scholarship has been divided on whether an observed increase in suicides in the United States among teenagers and preteens (12–18) can be attributed to an increased use in social screen media beginning in 2009. If these concerns are accurate effect sizes for the relationship between screen use and suicide should increase over the 16 years since 2001. The current study used the Florida Youth Risk Behavior Survey data (n = 45,992) from 2001 to 2017, to track effect sizes for screen/depression correlations, controlling for age and gender. A second dataset from the UK Understanding Society dataset (ns for each wave ranged between 3,536 and 4,850) was used to study associations between time spent on social media and emotional problems. Metaregression was be used to examine whether effect sizes increase across time. Results generally did not support the hypothesis that effect sizes between screen and social media use are increasing over time. Aside from the trends over time, for any given year, most effect sizes were below the r = .10 threshold used for interpretation with the exception of computer use which was just at that threshold. It is concluded that screens and social media use are unlikely to bear major responsibility for youth suicide trends. A video abstract of this article can be viewed at

Published in

Developmental Science


Volume: 24









Latest findings, new research

Publications search

Search all research by subject and author


Researchers discuss their findings and what they mean for society


Background and context, methods and data, aims and outputs


Conferences, seminars and workshops

Survey methodology

Specialist research, practice and study

Taking the long view

ISER's annual report


Key research themes and areas of interest