The public and experts alike have blamed social media for a long list of mental health issues, including rising rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal behavior among America’s youth. But research on the subject is conflicting. One study published this spring, for example, found that social media use likely doesn’t have a terribly large impact on teenagers’ life satisfaction, despite all those expert warnings.
A new study published in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health suggests the issue is even more nuanced. Social media is associated with mental health issues, the research says—but only under certain circumstances, and only for certain people. In girls, frequent social-media use seemed to harm health when it led to either cyberbullying and/or inadequate sleep and exercise. But these factors did not seem to have the same effect on boys, and the study didn’t pick up on specific ways that social networks could be harming them.
“The message, really, is that it’s not social-media use, per se, that causes harm,” says study co-author Dasha Nicholls, who leads the Child and Adolescent Mental Health research team at Imperial College London. “It’s about getting a balance between social-media use and other age-appropriate activities, and ensuring that there aren’t specific negative things happening online.”
Researchers analyzed data from the Our Futures study, which tracked about 10,000 U.K. teenagers over three years. Starting in 2013, the teens—then aged 13-14—answered questions about the frequency of their social-media use and in-person social interaction, as well as their health and demographic profiles. In subsequent years, the same teenagers provided updated information about their social-media use, and responded to other questions about their mental health, sleep habits, physical activity and brushes with cyberbullying.
In 2013, only about 43% of the teens in the study said they regularly checked social media multiple times per day. That rose to 59% in year two, and 68.5% in year three. Over time, frequent social-media use was associated with decreased mental health and well-being, as measured by responses to questions about psychological distress, life satisfaction, happiness and anxiety. Social media seemed to have a stronger impact on girls, but the relationship was present for boys as well.
The picture grew more complicated when researchers examined which habitual social-media users also reported cyberbullying, lack of sleep and lack of exercise, which they thought could be responsible for much of the problem. They found that those three factors could almost completely predict whether frequent social-media use would harm a teenage girl’s well-being. Cyberbullying appeared to be the most damaging to girls, followed by lack of sleep and lack of exercise.
Version:1.0 StartHTML:000000296 EndHTML:000173821 StartFragment:000158800 EndFragment:000173740 StartSelection:000159735 EndSelection:000173736 SourceURL:http://www.msn.com/en-xl/africa/africa-tech-science/social-media-hurts-girls-more-than-boys/ar-AAFMSO5?li=BBQbcGp&ocid=spartanntp_edu Social Media Hurts Girls More Than Boys
First up, the dos…2/16 SLIDES© adrian825/Getty Images
Always Use https (HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure)
Whenever connecting to your social networking sites, especially from a public hotspot, always use “https://” at the beginning of the URL. This ensures that your connection is secure. It is also advisable to steer clear from sites that just use “http://” in their URLs.3/16 SLIDES© Milton Frola/EyeEm/Getty Images
Verify friend requests first
It’s always tempting to expand your friend/follower base by accepting any request that comes your way. However, a better idea is to only accept requests from people you know or at least verify the person’s credentials before accepting. This will help secure your online identity better.4/16 SLIDES© Adam Kuylenstierna/EyeEm/Getty Images
The secret to be popular on social media is to have an active timeline. Keep posting about new activities or thoughts multiple times a day. The more you do, the more you will appear on others’ timelines and hence, higher chances to get more followers.5/16 SLIDES© Typo Art Bs/EyeEm/Getty Images
Play around with hashtags
Hashtags provide the invaluable metadata for your posts, which makes it easier for others to search and look up your posts based on its theme. Make sure to have proper, related hashtags to help achieve the desired reach. However, don’t overuse. A message made up of only hashtags is jarring, and readers tend to ignore it.6/16 SLIDES© Plume Creative/Getty Images
Social media is here to help us connect with one another. So try to get in touch with other users by liking, sharing and commenting on their posts. As you connect and strike a bond with more people, you stand a greater chance to gain more followers and a better reach for your posts.7/16 SLIDES© Justin Lewis/Getty Images
If you are a blogger, always try to be original in your content. Put up photos that you clicked, post witty quips and quotes, and dabble in creating original memes. An original post has much more chances of going viral.8/16 SLIDES© Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Glamour
Try to stay up-to-date
It seems like every other day there’s a new trend that crops up. To enjoy better following, try to keep up with the latest happenings in the online world. Play around with the most popular memes and hashtags and keep your posts as fresh and updated as possible.
Now, take a look at the don’ts…9/16 SLIDES© Justin Case/Taxi/Getty Images
Don’t post photos and tag without permission
You may have lots of embarrassing photos of your friends from a party. That doesn’t mean you should put them up publicly without asking them. Share a cordial relationship with your friends and fellow social media users. Remember, it’s more fun if everyone’s laughing together.10/16 SLIDES© James Whitaker/DigitalVision/Getty Images
Don’t trust third party links
When you open a third-party app from your social media site, it often asks for access to your friends lists, personal information and other data. It’s advisable not to open such a link, unless you trust the source.11/16 SLIDES© Jordan Siemens/Taxi/Getty Images
Don’t like your own posts
In the social media community, it is considered “uncool” to like your own photos and status. Just don’t do it!12/16 SLIDES© Tim Robberts/Stone/Getty Images
If someone is not interested in your posts, don’t keep tagging the person in your photos. This might result in losing your followers. The same goes for forced messages to others, inviting them to like your page or event. Let people like your posts and events naturally.13/16 SLIDES© SIphotography/iStock/Getty Images
Enough with the game invites!
Most games you play on Facebook needs you to send invites to others to win more lives or more chances to keep on playing. Not everyone might share the same interest in games. Those invites crowd the notifications bar, leading to irritation among users.14/16 SLIDES© Hinterhaus Productions/DigitalVision/Getty Images
Don’t ignore comments and messages
If you are managing a community or a group, you may get comments and feedback from your audience, with a query. It is always a good idea to revert to them in a timely fashion. This gives users a satisfying feeling of being heard and gives way to a well-functioning community.15/16 SLIDES© Peter Dazeley/Photographer’s Choice/Getty Images
Regular bloggers often come across hate comments on their posts. Don’t reply to them with a vengeance. Try to make your point in a calm manner. If that doesn’t work, it might be a good idea to ignore that comment or even block users in extreme situations. It’s never a good idea to post hate comments or abusive messages on social media. 16/16 SLIDES© Don Arnold/WireImage/Getty Images
Don’t be repetitive
Don’t pose in the same manner for every single photo you post. Don’t use copied messages to users who reach out to you. Always try to keep things fresh and original as possible. Interact with people as you would interact in real life to further friendships or build your web audience.16/16 SLIDESIn boys, however, these factors only explained 12% of the relationship between social media and poor mental health. There are a few reasons that may be true. For one thing, girls tend to be more susceptible than boys to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety regardless of screen time. Girls also experience more cyberbullying than boys, and Nicholls says they may be uniquely bothered by certain aspects of it, including comments about appearance and negative comparisons with others.
It’s perhaps more surprising that lack of rest and exercise stemming from online activity did not seem to affect boys, since both sleep quality and physical activity are strongly associated with mental health, regardless of gender. The discrepancy may boil down to use patterns, the study suggests. Since girls reported more frequent use of social media overall, it may be that boys are not sacrificing sleep and exercise to the same extent that girls are. The study, like most on this topic, was observational, meaning it could only look at patterns within its dataset, rather than designing a lab study that would dictate how much social media different kids used. It also couldn’t fully assess the duration of teens’ social-media use, only how many times per day they checked various apps and sites. But Nicholls says despite these limitations, the study can help guide teens toward healthier lifestyles, as one of the first to look into specific ways that social media may harm mental health over time.
“The key messages to young people are: Get enough sleep; don’t lose contact with your friends in real life; and physical activity is important for mental health and well-being,” Nicholls says. “If you look after yourself in those ways, you don’t have to worry about the impact of social media.”
Takeaways for parents of teens are similar, she says. They should encourage teenagers to stay active and turn off their phones at night—and perhaps more importantly, they should specifically ask about cyberbullying, since that seems to be a primary source of harm, Nicholls says.
“The emphasis needs to now be on the mechanisms and the content,” she says, “rather than just black-balling social media.”