Screen time: researching the priorities for screen time and young people’s mental health

What is this project?

This project aims to identify important and unanswered questions about the impact of recreational and social screen time on young people’s mental health. In this project, screen time is defined as watching TV and online videos, playing games, browsing the internet and using social media.

Commissioned by the Department of Health, researchers from UCL, Anna Freud Centre, Centre For Mental Health and the McPin Foundation have been working with young people aged 11 – 25, valued as experts by experience, in addition to parents, carers and educators, to create a public consultation survey that will establish a list of the top 10 most important unanswered questions on the topic of screen time and mental health.

Why is this research important?

Recent evidence suggests that 95% of teenagers have access to a smartphone, with high levels of regular social media use: 85% report using YouTube, 72% Instagram and 69% Snapchat (1).

Some research suggests that screen time can have a negative impact on health, but it is unclear whether this research can be applied to young people using smartphones today. Other research has found that social media use may be a risk factor for depression, anxiety, and psychological distress but there are a host of questions that remain unanswered. 

How are McPin and people affected by mental health problems involved? 

The McPin Foundation Right People, Right Questions survey was a starting point for the researchers, questions that were relevant to screen time and mental health were identified and used as a platform for further discussion. Next, the researchers held a series of discussion groups with young people, parents, teachers and other experts to generate a new list of questions specific to screen time. These will then form a public consultation prioritisation survey.

The McPin Foundation has promoted involvement in the project by facilitating a Young People Advisory Group (YPAG) who advise on the project, drawing from their experiences of the Right People, Right Questions research. McPin also attend steering group meetings with other key stakeholders and two YPAG members. During these meetings the YPAG have provided critical feedback on the questions created by the discussion groups as well as shaping the language and design of the public consultation survey that will be sent to young people, parents, carers and educators.


What is the current status of the project?

The public consultation survey is due to go live in May 2020 after which the results will be analysed, and the top 10 questions will be published.

Where can I find more information?

For more information about the public involvement within this project, you can get in contact via email:


  1. Teens, Social Media & Technology. (2018). Retrieved 30 April 2020, from