Skip to Main Content

Student Research Guide WQ23/ Technology and Impacts on Mental Health in Children

By A Hazelrigg

What is this Guide for?


An exploration of how digital technology and screen time affect the mental health of elementary age children

This is a student created research guide for English 102 & Library 201 Learning community

This guide will address issues around children's use of modern digital technology

The research thesis is...

As digital technology continues to be a fixture in our society, screen time is showing to have a detrimental impact on children’s mental health.

The research questions are...

  • What is screen time?
  • How much screen time is considered excessive?
  • What are social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones for children aged 6-12 years?
  • What are the correlations between these milestones and chronic screen time?
  • What do we currently know about how chronic screen time affects children's brains?
  • How can we avoid or lessen the negative impacts that screen time has on children's mental health?


As digital technology has become an increasingly significant part of life for many people, these tools are being introduced to children at a younger and younger age. Because of this, studies are frequently being conducted to investigate how this impacts development in infants, children, and adolescents. There is a growing concern over findings that indicate potential changes in both physical and mental health in children who participate in higher amounts of screen time use. The purpose of this research is to understand current research that show correlations between screen use and depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in elementary age children. The research for this project was conducted through a search of current studies of the past five years through ScienceDirect, the Pew Research Center, the National Library of Medicine, and other databases. The majority of studies found in recent years support a correlation between high rates of screen time (more than two hours) and negatively impacted mental health. In children that did not experience any preexisting mental health conditions, it was common to see increased reports of depression, including suicidal ideation and behavior, as well as changes in cortisol levels and resulting struggles with anxiety. Attention issues were also a commonly documented result of problematic screen use, including changes in white brain matter, which can be a common indicator of ADHD. The current recommendation from WHO is to refrain from offering screens to infants, no more than one hour of screen time for preschool aged children, and no more than 2 hours of screen time for elementary aged children. While current research offers a helpful foundation for how screen time affects children, further research is needed. Longitudinal studies that follow groups of the same children over a span of years would be able to offer clarification on the long term impacts and what that means for these children as they enter adulthood.

Background Information

Screen time is defined as time spent in front of a screen, whether that be a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or television. Screen time has statistically increased in society but does seem to affect certain demographics differently. With this research projects focus on how screen time affects children, it is important to have an understanding of what cognitive, social, and emotional milestones children are expected to meet at this stage of life. Between the ages 6 to 12, attention span strengthens. At age 6 children should be able focus on one task for 15 minutes, and by age 9 they are expected to hold focus for an hour. There is also an improved ability to control behavior, which looks like following instructions and cooperating with others. Empathy also grows along with a greater emotional awareness, which has an impact on the desire to engage and play with peers and build stronger friendships. 

Video, Graph, or Image

This table provides information on how parents report their children engage in screen time depending on their age. In this graphic, we see that television and smartphone use are relatively consistent from ages 0-11 years old compared to use of computer and gaming devices, where we see a fairly large increase in use between ages 4-5 years old.

All Content CC-BY.