How harmful is social media to teenagers’ mental health? According to one recent research study, social media is no more harmful than television was for young people in the 1990s.
The study looked at more than 430,000 young people aged 10 to 15 in the UK and US. It found no evidence that any link between mental ill health and technology had grown worse over that time. The research examined TV viewing, social media engagement and the use of digital devices such as smartphones before comparing them with feelings of depression, suicidal tendencies and behavioural problems. It aimed to investigate growing concerns that technology is becoming more prevalent in young people’s lives and more harmful to their mental health.
Other studies, however, have suggested a rise in teenage depression. A report by University College London in 2019 found that adolescents were more likely to feel depressed and to self-harm, and less likely to get a full night’s sleep, than ten years previously.
The study also found there was no notable difference in impact between boys and girls.
Some may assume, or have anecdotal evidence, that social media or smartphones result in poor mental health, but
this is not necessarily the case. While some individuals may be more affected than others, on average research shows the relationship is weak.
Instead there are other factors that appear to be more strongly related to poor mental health. Sleep, bullying and cyberbullying, and conflict between parents have much greater impact.
In the meantime, the wise parent keeps a close eye on the amount of time spent on social media and the material being accessed. When young people know their parents are interested and watchful, they may be influenced to make good choices.