Most teenagers have a healthy relationship with technology thanks to their parental figures, according to a study.

Despite previous studies providing conflicting findings on the impact of digital technology on adolescents, popular opinion has always leaned toward the more negative side of the spectrum.

With nearly half of children in the U.S. owning a smartphone by age 11, teens’ social media use has risen, resulting in higher rates of depression, anxiety, and even suicide.

But a nationwide study led by Dr. Megan Moreno, a professor of pediatrics and head of the Social Media and Adolescent Health Research Team at the School of Medicine and Public Health and adolescent health physician, UW Health Kids, suggested that most teens have a healthy relationship with technology, as long as their parents provide guidance.

Published in JMIR Pediatrics and Parenting, the study found that approximately 63% of teens who fell into the “family engaged” group had a healthy relationship with digital technology consumption. Meanwhile, the other 37% percent of teens got categorized as “at risk” since their parents did not set a good example with their own social media use and either had rules that revolved around screen time or none at all.

Moreno cautioned against using screen time as a sole indicator of whether technology use is healthy, despite device features making it easy to measure screen time.

"We found that [household] rules that focused on the content of technology, that focused on ongoing communication with parents—those rules were more effective than rules around screen time," Moreno said.

She also said that it’s important for parents to be guided by an understanding of the unique needs of their children and to realize the impact they provide as role models.

"Our study illustrates that the risks and benefits of technology use are not the same for every individual adolescent. Parents set the tone for healthy technology use, and this includes how they use their own phones," Moreno noted.

The study comes following the pandemic lockdowns, where digital communication became more central than ever in the lives of teenagers.

Finally, Moreno said there should be key behaviors associated with better well-being around technology use. They include having family-owned devices, rules centered on content rather than screen time, and parent awareness of their own technology use.