Teenagers involved in “extracurricular activities” have better mental health, study reveals

Young people who spend more time taking part in “extracurricular activities” and less time in front of a screen have better mental health, a major study has revealed.

The research, published by the University of British Columbia, suggests that mental health among young people could decline as a result of local and national restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the report, teenagers who spend less than two hours per day in front of a screen, such as playing video games or browsing social media, report higher levels of “life satisfaction” and “optimism” and lower levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms.

This is also true for young people who spend more time taking part in extracurricular activities – such as sports and art.

Girls, however, were more likely to report greater changes in mental health after taking part in extracurricular activities or reducing time spent in front of a screen.

The findings come as the UK plunges into a second national lockdown, potentially restricting access to extracurricular activities and increasing the time teenagers spend playing video games and using social media.

Commenting on the research, lead author Eva Oberle said: “Although we conducted this study before the COVID-19 pandemic, the findings are especially relevant now when teens may be spending more time in front of screens in their free time if access to extracurricular activities, like sports and arts programs is restricted due to COVID-19.

“Our findings highlight extracurricular activities as an asset for teens’ mental wellbeing. Finding safe ways for children and teens to continue to participate in these activities during current times may be a way to reduce screen time and promote mental health and wellbeing.”

The latest figures suggest that around one in four people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year, with the most common illnesses being anxiety and depression.

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