A new eight-year study suggests the amount of time teens spend on social media is not directly increasing the risk of anxiety or depression. The finding is relevant as the amount of time teenagers devote to social networking sites has risen 62.5 percent since 2012 and continues to grow.
Amazingly, investigators estimate that teenagers were on social media sites for an average of 2.6 hours per day last year. Critics have claimed that more screen time is increasing depression and anxiety in teenagers.
However, new research led by Dr. Sarah Coyne, a professor of family life at Brigham Young University, found that the amount of time spent on social media is not directly increasing anxiety or depression in teenagers.
“We spent eight years trying to really understand the relationship between time spent on social media and depression for developing teenagers,” said Coyne.
“If they increased their social media time, would it make them more depressed? Also, if they decreased their social media time, were they less depressed? The answer is no. We found that time spent on social media was not what was impacting anxiety or depression.”
The study appears in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.
Experts note that no one stressor is likely the cause of depression or anxiety. This study shows that it is not merely the amount of time spent on social media that’s leading to an increase in depression or anxiety among adolescents.
“For example, two teenagers could use social media for exactly the same amount of time but may have vastly different outcomes as a result of the way they are using it,” Coyne said.
The goal of this study is to help society as a whole move beyond the screen time debate and instead to examine the context and content surrounding social media use.
Coyne has three suggestions to use social media in healthier ways:
• be an active user instead of a passive user. Instead of just scrolling, actively comment, post and like other content;
• limit social media use at least an hour before falling asleep. Getting enough sleep is one of the most protective factors for mental health;
• be intentional. Look at your motivations for engaging with social media in the first place.
“If you get on specifically to seek out information or to connect with others, that can have a more positive effect than getting on just because you’re bored,” Coyne said.
In the study researchers sough to understand teenagers’ mental health and their social media use. They worked with 500 youth between the ages of 13 and 20 who completed once-yearly questionnaires over an eight-year span.
Social media use was measured by asking participants how much time they spent on social networking sites on a typical day. To measure depression and anxiety, participants responded to questions with different scales to indicate depressive symptoms and anxiety levels.
These results were then analyzed on an individual level to see if there was a strong correlation between the two variables.
Researchers discovered that at age 13, adolescents reported an average social networking use of 31-60 minutes per day. These average levels increased steadily so that by young adulthood, they were reporting upwards of two hours per day.
However, this increase of social networking did not predict future mental health. That is, adolescents’ increases in social networking beyond their typical levels did not predict changes in anxiety or depression one year later.
Source: Brigham Young University