Art imitates life and research imitates common sense, it seems. A new study has found that the more young people watch television, the poorer their relationships with both their friends and parents.

Evidently, some parents worry that their kids might feel excluded if they were not watching the same programmes as their friends. But lead researcher Dr Rose Richards of the University of Otago, New Zealand, says that limiting TV viewing “may result in stronger relationships between young people, their friends and their parents.”

The study involved 3043 New Zealand adolescents aged 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.

The researchers also assessed interview responses from 976 members of the Dunedin study who were 15 years old between 1987 and 1988.

Strong relationships with parents and friends were important for healthy development from teenage years into adulthood, Dr Richards said.

OK, we knew that, and we also knew that you cannot build strong relationships with people if you never spend face-to-face time with them. So why is this pair of studies significant?

Because it shows that, if the advent of laptops and cellphones in teenagers lives has not worsened the effect of media on family relations, neither has it improved them. Even if the kids claim they can talk to you and update their Facebook pages at the same time, the relationship is likely to suffer:

The studies were conducted 16 years apart and show that, although the nature of screen-based entertainment has changed, the association with family relationships appears to be the same.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet