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Canadian Study Analyzes Links Between Smartphones, Social Media & Teen Mental Health

In a new review, Canadian researchers provide guidance for physicians, teachers and families on how to help teens manage smartphone and social media use. The findings come from an analysis of research that suggests an association between excessive smartphone and social media use and mental distress among adolescents.

In the review, investigator provide guidelines to help teens obtain a healthy balance between sleep, academic work, social activity, interpersonal relationships and online activity. The analysis is found in the Canadian Medical Journal and focuses on smartphone use and does not consider online gaming.

“Physicians, teachers and families need to work together with youth to decrease possible harmful effects of smartphones and social media on their relationships, sense of self, sleep, academic performance, and emotional well-being,” said lead author Dr. Elia Abi-Jaoude, psychiatrist at Toronto Western Hospital.

Topics discussed in the analysis include:

  • what are the effects of social media on adolescents’ sense of self?
  • can social media encourage self-harm?
  • does excessive smartphone use affect mental health?
  • how does social media and smartphone use affect sleep required for mental health?
  • are some teens more vulnerable to mental health effects than others?
  • how can physicians use this information in clinical practice?

“Given the importance of engaging youth in mitigating potential harms from social media, a prohibitionist approach would be counterproductive,” write the authors.

“For adolescents today, who have not known a world without social media, digital interactions are the norm, and the potential benefits of online access to productive mental health information — including media literacy, creativity, self-expression, sense of belonging and civic engagement — as well as low barriers to resources such as crisis lines and Internet-based talking therapies cannot be discounted.”

Suggestions to help teens manage smartphone and social media use include:

  • physicians can recommend teens reduce social media use rather than eradicate it completely. Encourage parents to be part of the conversations;
  • parents should discuss appropriate smartphone use with teenagers to determine together how to reduce risks and set boundaries. Model responsible smartphone use;
  • schools can negotiate developmentally appropriate smartphone use in the context of a relationship built on mutual trust and respect for autonomy.

Resources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics Family Media Use Plan, a Family Media Toolkit and information from the Center for Humane Technology also provide tips on how to develop social media use plans and support youth.

The review is timely; a recent U.S. poll indicates that 54 percent of teens think they spend too much time on their smartphones and about half said they were cutting back on usage.

“Encouragingly, youth are increasingly recognizing the negative impact of social media on their lives and starting to take steps to mitigate it,” write the authors.

Source: Canadian Medical Journal

Canadian Study Analyzes Links Between Smartphones, Social Media & Teen Mental Health

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2020). Canadian Study Analyzes Links Between Smartphones, Social Media & Teen Mental Health. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 12 Feb 2020 (Originally: 12 Feb 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 12 Feb 2020
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