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Being online can help teenagers cope with stress

A new study has discovered that technology in moderation can help adolescents gain access to support and information 

Adolescents are smart and make use of technology to their own advantage.
Adolescents are smart and make use of technology to their own advantage. (Hannah Busing (Unsplash))

Let's be honest, a teenager today is spending more time online than ever before: taking classes on Zoom, trawling through social media, watching Youtube videos or Netflix or chatting with a friend in another country (or maybe even next door; covid has redefined distances completely). And while completely forbidding it is impossible, parents world-over must wonder: how much is too much? 

A new study published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science on August 24 may offer some answers. According to the study, teenagers (ages 13-17) in low socioeconomic settings who spend a moderate amount of time online after a stressful experience deal with adversity far better than those who spend many hours online or avoid digital technology altogether. Kathryn Modecki of Griffith University's Menzies Health Institute and School of Applied Psychology points out that there has been a tendency to assume that technology use by teens is negative and harmful. "But such a broad assumption isn't borne out by what we know about the developmental stage of adolescence," she says, adding that adolescents are smart and make use of technology to their own advantage. 

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The study was conducted by providing iPhones to more than 200 adolescents living in low socioeconomic settings and instructing them to use these phones exactly as they would use personal smartphones. The teens were asked to report on their technology use, stressors, and emotions five times a day for a week. This data was then used to throw light on the emotional state of adolescents who used technology moderately, excessively, or not at all when coping with stress.

It was discovered that adolescents who engaged with technology in moderation in the hours after a stressful situation did better emotionally than those who didn't use technology at all or those who were perennially engaged with it. According to the researchers, the online space serves not just as a short-term distraction. It is also a resource for adolescents to find support and information about what is troubling them. 

The online space may be levelling the playing field when accessing information and support, something that could be especially pertinent for teens in low-income settings. "We found a just-right 'Goldilocks' effect in which moderate amounts of online coping helped mitigate surges in negative emotions and dips in happiness," said Modecki. "In the face of daily stressors, when adolescents engaged in emotional support seeking, they experienced better short-term stress relief."

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