Adolescence is the peak period for loneliness. Now a ubiquitous part of the adolescent landscape, electronic screens may provide avenues for ameliorating feelings of loneliness. Conversely, they may act as risk factors for the development of such feelings. Although cross-sectional studies to date have investigated the relationship between screen use and loneliness, longitudinal studies are needed if causal and directional associations are to be investigated. Utilising an accelerated longitudinal design and online survey we collected four waves of data from 1919 secondary school adolescents aged 10–15 years over two years. Random intercept cross-lagged panel models tested whether changes in five types of screen use (i.e., total screen time, social media use, gaming, passive screen use, and web use) are associated with changes in loneliness in the subsequent time-point, or changes in loneliness are associated with changes in screen use in the subsequent time-point. We found significant reciprocal associations between screen use and loneliness, with the strongest associations between social networking and electronic gaming and quality of friendships. These findings highlight that any significant increase in an adolescent's screen use may be a potential indicator of changes in quality of friendships or feelings of isolation.
- screen use