Given the importance of healthy relationships with friends and family to adolescent development, the researchers suggest that "concern about high levels of screen time among adolescents is warranted" and that more research is needed to monitor the effects of new technologies on the well being of growing teenagers.
There are several potential mechanisms underlying the relationship between increased screen time and poorer relationships, they note. For instance, teens who have televisions in their bedroom not only spent more time watching but also may share fewer meals with family members. "However, it is also possible that adolescents with poor attachment relationships with immediate friends and family use screen-based activities to facilitate new attachment figures such as online friendships or parasocial relationships with television characters or personalities," the authors write.
Researchers studied 3,043 adolescents age 14 to 15 in 2004. The teens completed a confidential questionnaire about their free-time habits, as well as an assessment of their attachment to parents and peers.
Overall, the more time teens spent watching television or playing on a computer, the more likely they were to report low attachment to parents (in other words, difficulty forming a relationship or emotional bond). The risk of having low attachment to parents increased 4 percent for every hour spent viewing television and 5 percent for every hour spent playing on a computer. Conversely, teens who spend more time reading and doing homework reported a higher level of attachment to parents.
The researchers also assessed interview responses from 976 individuals who were age 15 years in 1987 to 1988. Among these teens, more time spent viewing television was associated with lower attachment to both parents and peers.
For every additional hour of television, teens had a 13 percent increased risk of low attachment to their parents and a 24 percent increased risk of low attachment to peers. "Recommendations that children watch less television are sometimes met with the concern that being unable to discuss popular shows or characters may inhibit peer relationships," the authors write. "The findings herein do not suggest that less television viewing is detrimental to adolescent friendships."
Citation: Rosalina Richards et al., 'Adolescent Screen Time and Attachment to Parents and Peers', Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med., March 2010, 164(3), 258-262