Can social media negatively affect the health and wellbeing of teens? Research shows the answer is yes.
This U.K.-based longitudinal study, carried out from 2011 to 2018 with over 17,000 participants ages of 10–21 years old, found distinct developmental periods when youth showed heightened sensitivity to negative effects of social media. Among females at 11–13 and at 19 years old, and among males at 14–15 and 19 years old, higher estimated social media use predicted decreases in life satisfaction ratings one year later. The converse was also true, where lower estimated social media use in these age groups predicted an increase in life satisfaction ratings one year later.
Orben A, Przybylski AK, Blakemore S-J, Kievit RA. Windows of developmental sensitivity to social media. Nature Communications 2022;13:1649.
Adolescent girls with Snapchat and Tumblr accounts and adolescent boys with Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram profiles were more likely to have disordered eating than those who did not have accounts. Greater time spent on Instagram and Snapchat was linked with worse eating disorder symptoms in adolescent girls.
Wilksch SM, O’Shea A, Ho P, Byrne S, Wade TD. The relationship between social media use and disordered eating in young adolescents. International Journal of Eating Disorders. 2020;53(1):96-106.
In a systematic review synthesizing findings from 13 studies on the influence of social media on adolescent mental health, the authors found that more time spent on social media, social media engagement and interaction with other users, investment of effort, time on social media, and social media addiction were all associated with greater depression, anxiety, and psychological distress.
Keles B, McCrae N, Grealish A. A systematic review: The influence of social media on depression, anxiety and psychological distress in adolescents. International Journal of Adolescence and Youth. 2020;25(1):79-93.
Adolescents who reported spending more time on social media platforms that are highly visual or image-based reported greater body dissatisfaction. High use of highly-visual social media was also associated with more emotional symptoms than the use of social media platforms that did not rely on images.
Marengo D, Longobardi C, Fabris MA, Settanni M. Highly-visual social media and internalizing symptoms in adolescence: The mediating role of body image concerns. Computers in Human Behavior 2018;82(May 2018), 63-69.
This longitudinal study followed young people over one year and found that greater use of social media use was linked over time with worse psychological symptoms in both girls and boys.
Viner RM, Gireesh A, Stiglic N, Hudson LD, Goddings AL, Ward JL, Nicholls DE. Roles of cyberbullying, sleep, and physical activity in mediating the effects of social media use on mental health and wellbeing among young people in England: a secondary analysis of longitudinal data. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health. 2019;3(10):685-96.
Researchers asked adolescents to undergo fMRI (which measures small changes in blood flow based on brain activity) while looking at photos that could be posted on Instagram. During their fMRI, adolescents are more likely to “Like” or socially endorse a photo that has a higher number of Likes, even if the photo is displaying risk-taking behaviors (e.g., drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes).
Sherman LE, Payton AA, Hernandez LM, Greenfield PM, Dapretto M. The power of the like in adolescence: Effects of peer influence on neural and behavioral responses to social media. Psychological Science. 2016;27(7), 1027–35.
An experimental study comparing the use of Instagram and Facebook with a control group (no social media) among young women (ages 18-26) found those randomized to the Facebook- and Instagram-use groups reported more appearance comparison than the control group. Instagram users also experienced decreased body satisfaction.
Engeln R, Loach R, Imundo M, Zola A. Compared to Facebook, Instagram use causes more appearance comparison and lower body satisfaction in college women. Body Image. 2020;34(September 2020):38-45.
Despite U.S. laws preventing social media use for anyone under the age of 13, many children are using social media regularly. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of adolescents aged 13 to 18 use social media daily, as do 18% of children aged 8 to 12. Conversely, only 34% of adolescents and 12% of children report actually enjoying social media “a lot.”
Rideout V, Peebles A, Mann S, Robb M. Common Sense census: Media use by tweens and teens, 2021. Common Sense Media. March 9, 2022. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/research/report/8-18-census-integrated-report-final-web_0.pdf
LGBTQ youth are more likely to experience cyberbullying and suffer negative outcomes related to cyberbullying than their heterosexual and cisgender peers. A review of 27 studies found that LGBTQ youth who are cyberbullied experience negative outcomes such as suicidal ideation, depression, and lower self-esteem, and lower academic performance.
Abreu RL, Kenny MC. Cyberbullying and LGBTQ youth: A systematic literature review and recommendations for prevention and intervention. Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma. 2018;11(1):81-97.
Although adolescents encounter extremist content online, they may not have the media literacy skills that they need to identify it as such. Over one-third (37%) of adolescents encountered extremism at least sometimes, while 15% reported seeing this type of content frequently or very frequently. This study found that if the extremist content was framed in a way that related to a teen’s everyday life experiences, they were less likely to recognize it as extreme content.
Nienierza A, Reinemann C, Fawzi N, Riesmeyer C, Neumann K. Too dark to see? Explaining adolescents’ contact with online extremism and their ability to recognize it. Information, Communication & Society. 2021;24(9):1229-46.
Multiple longitudinal studies, which follow participants over time, have found that adolescents with high amounts of screen time use (which includes social media, television, and internet use) experienced worse psychological outcomes around depression and body dissatisfaction.
This study evaluated the effects of adolescents’ digital media use across three large datasets (including over 200,000 participants). Heavy digital media users, who used digital media 5 or more hours a day, reported worse psychological well-being. Light use, which was under one hour per day, was associated with better psychological well-being measures compared to heavy, moderate, and non-users.
Twenge JM, Campbell WK. Media use is linked to lower psychological well-being: Evidence from three datasets. Psychiatric Quarterly. 2019;90:311–31.
A study of 150 adolescents, followed over two years, found that greater screen time was associated with worsened body image for girls.
Hrafnkelsdottir SM, Brychta RJ, Rognvaldsdottir V, Chen, KY Johannsson E, Guðmundsdottir SL., Arngrimsson SA. Screen time and body image in Icelandic adolescents: Sex-specific cross-sectional and longitudinal associations. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2022;19(3):1308.
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