This is starting to resemble a monthly feature, but it’s important so darn it I’m going to keep writing about it. This week brought even more evidence that excessive social media use is correlated with mental health problems in children and teenagers, although (as always) it’s worth point out that correlation doesn’t prove causation.
The latest study, carried out by the UK Office of National Statistics, found that children ages 10-15 who spend more than three hours a day on social media were significantly more likely to experience mental health problems than those who spent less than three hours on social media (27% versus 11%).
Overall, the study found 8% of children in this age group spend three hours a day or more on social websites, while 56% spend up to three hours a day, and 37% don’t spend any time on social websites. The study also found girls were twice as likely as boys to spend over three hours a day on social media than boys (11% versus 5%).
As noted, these results don’t prove that social media is causing depression: it’s easy to imagine that kids who are already experiencing mental health issues gravitate to social media for some reason, and that social media may simply have replaced other kinds of excessive media consumption for depressed kids of previous generations (e.g. TV, video games, the poetry of Sylvia Plath).
By the same token social media may be playing a specific role by reinforcing unhealthy patterns of behavior, for example be enabling teens (and adults) to compare their lives unfavorably to the idealized images presented by other users. In that case, limiting social media use might indeed be an effective tactic to combat mental health issues for this group.
Last month I wrote about another British study, this one from the University of Cardiff in Wales, which found that over a third of teens wake up in the middle of the night to check social media every week, and correlated this behavior with lower levels of self-reported feelings of well-being and happiness.
A third study, by researchers at the University of Glasgow, also linked “fear of missing out,” or FOMO, on social media with sleep loss and other negative outcomes.