Young Adolescents' Digital Technology Use, Perceived Impairments, and Well-Being in a Representative Sample

J Pediatr. 2020 Apr:219:180-187. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2019.12.002. Epub 2020 Feb 11.


Objective: To examine the cross-sectional associations between young adolescents' access, use, and perceived impairments related to digital technologies and their academic, psychological, and physical well-being.

Study design: There were 2104 adolescents (ages 10-15 years), representative of the North Carolina Public School population, who completed questionnaires in 2015. Administrative educational records were linked with parental consent.

Results: Nearly all young adolescents (95%) had Internet access, 67% owned a mobile phone, and 68% had a social media account. Mobile phone ownership was not associated with any indicators of well-being (math and reading test scores, school belonging, psychological distress, conduct problems, or physical health) after controlling for demographic factors. Having a social media account and frequency of social media use were only robustly associated with conduct problems (explaining ∼3% of the variation in conduct problems). Despite the lack of strong associations, 91% of adolescents reported at least 1 perceived technology-related impairment and 29% of adolescents reported online-to-offline spillover of negative experiences. Economically disadvantaged adolescents reported similar access, but greater online-to-offline spillover and stronger associations between social media account ownership and poor psychological well-being compared with their more affluent peers.

Conclusions: At the population level, there was little evidence that digital technology access and use is negatively associated with young adolescents' well-being. Youth from economically disadvantaged families were equally likely to have access to digital technologies, but were more likely than their more affluent peers to report negative online experiences. Closing the digital divide requires prioritizing equity in experiences and opportunities, as well as in access.

Keywords: academic achievement; conduct problems; digital divide; economic disadvantage; mobile phone; psychological distress; social media.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Cell Phone / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child
  • Child Welfare
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Problem Behavior*
  • Self Report
  • Social Media / statistics & numerical data*