How much is too much?
Social media use may have different effects on well-being in adolescent boys and girls, according to new research. Researchers found an association between increased time spent on social media in early adolescence (age 10) and reduced well-being in later adolescence (age 10-15) — but only among girls.
Research published BMC Public Health has found that not only do adolescent girls use social media more than boys, but among girls, there was an association between increased time spent on social media in early adolescence and reduced well-being in later adolescence.
The researchers, from the University of Essex looks at patterns of behavior among 10-15-year-olds in the UK, and their levels of well-being, to see if all this time spent online was having a detrimental impact on their mental health. They found that teenage girls are by far the highest users of social media, and those who are using it for more than an hour a day also have more well-being problems in later teen years.
The new study set out to look at data from almost 10,000 families in the U.K. from 2009 to 2015. The children in the study were 10 at the first time point and up to 15 years old at the last. Their mental health was assessed using two reliable surveys, which measured happiness and well-being across different parts of their lives (school, family, etc), and social and emotional challenges.
The Research was published in BMC Public Health.
Girls used social media more than boys did, and their mental health seemed to suffer for it. At age 10, 10% of girls were on social media for an hour a day, vs. 7% of boys. But at age 15, the disparity grew: 43% of girls were using it at least an hour per day, vs. 31% of boys. At age 10, girls reported lower levels of happiness, and they reported more social and emotional difficulties as they aged, compared to boys.
What makes girls different?
The new study suggests that part of what may be behind the link is in how girls use social media. Girls may be more likely to make comparisons between themselves and others and earlier research has shown that it’s the comparison-making, in either direction, that seems to be a root cause of social media’s negative effects.
Viewing filtered or photo-shopped images and mostly positive posts may lead to feelings of inadequacy and poorer well-being. Girls may also feel more pressure to develop and maintain a social media presence than boys. Social media presence requires constant updating and having friends share or like their content. If their perceived popularity decreases over time, there may be a resultant increase in social and emotional difficulties.
Boys, on the other hand, are much more likely to participate in gaming than social media, which is not covered by our study. Thus boys’ levels of well-being may be more related to their gaming and skill level.
What can we do to protect young people?
So what can be done to help protect young people from the potential damage to their mental health?? If you have kids, try to get and keep them involved in actual activities that foster their real-life social connections. And if you’re concerned about your own use, try cutting back. Studies evidence has shown that when people quit social media, though it can be stressful at first, they’re actually much happier for it in the end.