Commentary

Excessive Social Media Use Linked To Mental Health Issues In Kids (Again)

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%).

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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.

4 comments about "Excessive Social Media Use Linked To Mental Health Issues In Kids (Again)".
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  1. Rajesh Chandrashekaran from Fairleigh Dickinson University, October 23, 2015 at 12:24 p.m.

    It is both silly and irresponsible to write such headlines, especially when there is no empirical proof that use of social media "causes" mental illness. In fact, common sense would tell us that the reverse is most likely true.  So, why not write about that (i..e, Persons with mental illness more likely to use social media)? Any true researcher will understand how causality works and any responsible researcher will understand the importance of not misleading readers with wrong headlines! 

  2. Mark Mellynchuk from BDC Inc, October 23, 2015 at 12:41 p.m.

    I don't see where the headline implies causality in any way.  The phrasing "linked to" is completely neutral as to causality.  And there is a disclaimer in the first paragraph regarding the difference between correlation and causation.  It is "silly and irresponsible" to criticize someone's journalism without a close reading and comprehension of what has been written.  Furthermore, any "true researcher" would not attempt to use "common sense" as evidence of their hypothesis.

  3. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, October 23, 2015 at 3:31 p.m.

    And it could be spurious.  Here's a fun Friday afternoon website:
    http://www.tylervigen.com/spurious-correlations

  4. WebSafety Inc from WebSafety, October 23, 2015 at 6:44 p.m.

    We offer a FREE app for parents to monitor social media, messaging and web browsing on their child's mobile device. WebSafety’s vision is to provide an open window through which concerned parents can monitor questionable and potentially harmful content or a direct predatory exchange occurring on their child’s mobile phone.  For more info, please visit: www.websafety.com

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