Moderate online engagement can help reduce stress among teens – study

Moderate online engagement can help reduce stress among teens – study

Moderate use of technology can help adolescents cope better after a stressful experience compared to either spending copious amounts of time online or none at all, a new study has found.

Researchers from Griffith University conducted a study of teenagers living in low socio-economic areas and lent them new iPhones to track how much time they spend on these devices, their stressors, and the emotions they felt during such experiences.

The team monitored these parameters five times daily for week and found that teens who spent just a few hours online fared better emotionally compared to those who used technology frequently or did not use technology at all as a coping mechanism.

“In the face of daily stressors, when adolescents engaged in emotional support seeking, self-distraction or information seeking online in a moderate capacity, they experienced better short-term stress relief,’’ said Dr Kathryn Modecki, associate professor at Griffith’s Menzies Health Institute Queensland and School of Applied Psychology and the study’s lead researcher.

“Teens showed smaller dips in happiness and smaller surges in emotions like sadness, worry, and jealousy in the hours after a stressor when they used online coping techniques for some of their stress relief,” she added.

By contrast, teens who routinely used technology or did not use it all as a coping mechanism were not able to experience the same benefits.

Dr Modecki said the team chose adolescents in disadvantaged settings because they have fewer support available, adding that the study sought to find out whether online engagement helped reduce their stress.

“There has been a tendency to assume that technology is negative and harmful, but such a broad assumption isn’t borne out by what we know about the developmental stage of adolescence,” she said.

Dr Modecki added that the group wanted to test the “Goldilocks Hypothesis,” where moderate health-seeking behaviour is beneficial but extreme use or non-use less so.

“This study works to reframe technology’s effects towards potential benefits for adolescents, in this case enhancing their ability to cope effectively with day-to-day stressors,’’ she said. “The online space is an unequalled resource for adolescents to find support and information about what is troubling them as well as short-term distraction.”

Dr Modecki said the findings were even more relevant for adolescents living in low-income settings where “technology can help even the playing field for accessing helpful systems of information and additional supports.”

“Teenagers benefit from the online space when managing stressors encountered in everyday life; they can discover accurate information, connect with support systems and take a break from daily hassles,” she said.