A new study will examine the impact of cumulative use of screen-based technologies such as the Internet, online video gaming, social media and social network sites on the mental health of children.
A Healthway grant of almost $360,000 has been awarded to a multidisciplinary team of researchers from three schools at The University of Western Australia.
Team leader, Winthrop Professor Stephen Houghton of the Graduate School of Education, said young people spend between four and seven hours a day using screen-based communication and entertainment media.
"Given the pervasiveness of screen-based technologies in young people's lives, understanding the links between use and mental health - and developing evidence-based guidelines for use - are crucial," he said.
"The aim of our study is to investigate the impact of screen-based communication and entertainment media use on mental health and wellbeing in children and teenagers from eight to 18."
The researchers will recruit 1440 primary and secondary students from up to 12 schools and follow them for the next three years.
"The comprehensiveness of this study is unique and includes time, intensity and type of screen use, and will capture the way young people use multiple screen mediums simultaneously. The study will also include both ‘mental wellbeing' and ‘illness' measures including validated measures of depression, anxiety, loneliness and social capital," Professor Houghton said.
"With an additional focus on young people's use of social networking sites, the research is also responding to a complex issue relevant to almost all young people. Anecdotally we know that many parents and schools worry about the role of social network media in student's lives, and this study will help provide much needed evidence about the impact on mental health."
The grant was one of only four awarded by Healthway in this funding round. Other researchers are Associate Professor Lisa Wood and Assistant Professor Karen Martin of the School of Population Health, Associate Professor Michael Rosenberg of the School of Sport Science, Exercise and Health, and Adjunct Associate Professor Trevor Shilton of the School of Population Health and the Heart Foundation WA.