To anybody with a modicum of common sense, social media can become harmful. One recent study from the UK has found that the link between social media and depression is particularly high in girls.
While the study’s findings weren’t surprising, it doesn’t reveal whether social media is the cause of depression. There are arguments to suggest that dedicating upward of two hours per day to scrolling through Facebook could be a result of poor mental health instead.
In either case, curtailing social media use among children is wise.
What did the study reveal about the link between social media and depression?
The study in question analyzed various habits among 10,000 teenagers in the UK. Those taking part completed a survey that featured questions about their social media use and their mental health. For the sake of accuracy, the researchers used world-renowned models to measure mental health outcomes. One model was the Moods and Feelings Questionnaire, which asks participants to rate the relevance of certain statements.
Of those taking part, only four percent of girls and 10-percent of boys abstained from social media use entirely. Out of all the light social media users, 12-percent demonstrated signs of depression. In contrast, 38-percent of those using it heavily showed signs of depression.
To stratify the data, the researchers made attempts to see whether the relationship between social media and depression was causative. The researchers concluded that a significant proportion of the participants who showed signs of depression were also suffering from poor mental health at the age of 11.
Why is social media so harmful for teens? Especially girls?
Social media is relatively new phenomenon, which means there’s limited evidence out there to support any ideas we have about it. However, one of the more popular hypotheses about social media and depression in girls is the way it promotes unrealistic comparisons. In addition to comparing themselves with their peers, girls who use it regularly may feel uneasy about the unrealistic body standards sites such as Instagram promote.
Some of the more enlightening studies into social media and depression include:
- Teens who use social media at night are more likely to experience poor sleep. Insomnia can act as both a cause and symptom of depression.
- Young people who reduce the use of apps such as Snapchat and Facebook by 30 minutes per day report a marked improvement in their mental wellbeing.
- Another study reveals how young women who spend time looking at the profiles of peers who they feel are more attractive than themselves increases their poor body image perception.
While none of the studies above are large enough to reveal why the link between social media and depression is so strong, they do provide a useful overview.
How can parents help teens using social media?
Children infamously lack the same degree of self-control that (most) adults possess. Don’t make the mistake of believing a teenager can self-regulate just because they express a desire for independence.
Instead, those who promote social media safety recommend trying the following:
- Discuss what is and isn’t appropriate to post on social media
- Set strict time limits on screentime
- Highlight how social influencers often have carefully curated and unattainable lifestyles
- Focus on promoting a realistic and healthy body image
Until the relationship between social media and depression is fully established, it appears that reducing screentime is the best tool that parents have.