What do we want to know?
The use of screen-based electronic devices plays a central part in the lives of many children and young people (CYP). However, as their popularity and widespread use of screen-based activities has grown so have concerns about their possible impact on CYP’s mental health and psychosocial wellbeing. These concerns, and the need to provide guidance and advice, were informed by an examination of the available research evidence. To achieve this, we located systematic reviews, described their key characteristics and assessed their methodological rigour to answer the following research questions:
- What is the nature and extent of systematic review literature on screen-based activities and CYP’s mental health and psychosocial wellbeing?
- What is the quality of systematic review literature on screen-based activities and CYP’s mental health and psychosocial wellbeing?
- What are the gaps in the systematic review literature evidence base and priorities for new evidence synthesis and primary research?
Who wants to know?
This project was commissioned by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Policy Research Programme (PRP) for the Department of Health and Social Care and will be of interest to policymakers, practitioners, and researchers.
What did we find?
Types of screen-based activities
We located 82 reviews published between 2007 and 2018. The reviews investigated a range of screen-based activities and their relationship with mental health and psychosocial outcomes. These included: Social media (n=19); Cyberbullying (n=19); Screen time (n=11); Problematic/addictive internet use (n=10); Gaming (n=8); Sexting (n=7); Internet use (n=6) and Smartphone use (n=2)
Aims of included reviews
- Most reviews sought to investigate the relationship between screen-based activities and mental health and psychosocial outcomes, drawing mainly on cross-sectional data (n=75).
- Fewer reviews attempted to explore the risk factors (n=6) or consequences (n=11) of screen-based activities by conducting syntheses of longitudinal data.
- Even fewer reviews explored CYP’s experience of engagement with screen-based activities by conducting a qualitative evidence synthesis (n=4).
A wide spectrum of mental health and psychosocial outcomes were investigated across the reviews. These included commonly recognised mental health outcomes such as depression and anxiety, in addition to outcomes such as self-esteem, loneliness, social connectedness and life satisfaction.
Quality of reviews
Most reviews on screen time were classified as high quality. The reviews of social media, problematic/addictive internet use and cyberbullying varied considerably, but also included high quality reviews. The reviews on internet use, sexting and smartphone use, were of medium or low quality. All the reviews on gaming were classified as low quality.
What are the conclusions?
We identified a lack of evidence synthesis of:
- prospective research designs, limiting our understanding of causal relationships between screen-based activities and mental health and psychosocial outcomes
- different types of engagement in screen-based activities and their relationship with mental health and psychosocial outcomes
- CYP’s experiences and perspectives of screen-based activities and their relationship with mental health and psychosocial wellbeing
Future reviews generating evidence of this kind are needed to improve our understanding of the consequences of, and causal mechanisms that explain how and why, the use of screen-based activities may impact mental health and psychosocial outcomes, over time.
How did we get these results?
We conducted a systematic search of 12 electronic databases and six online resources to identify reviews published from 2007 which have included studies on the relationship between screen-based activities and mental health and psychosocial outcomes in children and young people (0-25 years old). To understand the focus of included reviews we captured information on their key dimensions such as: the type of the screen-based activity examined; the aims of the review; overall population focus; and the outcomes reported. To assess the methodological quality of reviews of quantitative studies we used an adapted version of the AMSTAR 2 criteria. Reviews were tabulated and described narratively according to the overall focus as reported by the authors (e.g. screen time, social media, cyberbullying, etc).
This report should be cited as: Dickson K, Richardson M, Kwan I, MacDowall W, Burchett H, Stansfield C, Brunton G, Sutcliffe K, Thomas J (2018) Screen-based activities and children and young people’s mental health: A Systematic Map of Reviews, London: EPPI Centre, Social Science Research Unit, UCL Institute of Education, University College London.