“Real-Life” Activities Lead to Happier Teens

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This study examines adolescents' recreational screen time and participation in extracurricular activities during after-school hours in association to indicators of positive and negative mental health and wellbeing.

Teens who participate in in-person after-school activities such as sports, arts, and community programs show higher levels of life satisfaction and optimism, according to a study published in Preventative Medicine. The teens surveyed also reported lower screen time — a habit associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression.

Teens tend to engage in both extracurricular activities and screen time. Therefore, the authors wanted to examine time use of both in relation to mental health indicators.

The study included self-reported data from more than 28,000 7th grade students in British Columbia, Canada, who completed a survey in 2014/2015 and 2017/2018.

Of the teens surveyed, 14.47% did not participate in extracurricular activities. For screen time, 48% reported less than 2 hours a day and 47.52% reported 2 hours or more per day.

Extracurricular participation was negatively related to screen time (χ2 = 573.37, df = 1, P < .001); nonparticipants were more likely to report higher levels of screen time than participants. Among nonparticipants, 66.63% reported longer screen time. Among the teens who participated in extracurricular activities, the number who participated in longer screen time dropped to 46.28%.

Extracurricular participation (est. = 0.23, 99% CI [0.17, 0.28]) and shorter screen time (est. = 0.29, 99% CI [0.20, 0.37]) were associated with higher levels of satisfaction with life. Extracurricular participation (est. = 0.25, 99% CI [0.20, 0.30]) and shorter screen time (est. = 0.31, 99% CI [0.23, 0.40]) were positively associated with optimism.

The teens who did not participate in extracurricular activities and who reported longer screen time also reported higher negative mental health scores.

This study had some limitations. Data were cross-sectional and causality cannot be implied. Mental health measures were not diagnostic or clinical screening measures. And, screen time did not distinguish between forms of screen use, such as smartphone and computer, or type, such as social media.

The researchers also found differences between boys and girls. “Longer hours of screen time were consistently more detrimental for the mental health of girls than for boys in this study. In other words, the protective nature of shorter screen time was more important for girls’ than for boys’ mental health,” the authors concluded.

“This finding is consistent with previous research suggesting that long hours of internet use was more common among girls (but not boys) with major depressive symptomatology compared to girls with no or minor depressive symptomatology.”


Oberle E, Ji XR, Kerai S, Guhn M, Schonert-Reichl KA, Gadermann AM. Screen time and extracurricular activities as risk and protective factors for mental health in adolescence: A population-level study. Prev Med. 2020 Oct 16;141:106291. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2020.106291