Social Media Giants Catch A Break From Researchers

Oxford University researchers appear to have thrown the social media giants a bit of a lifeline. In the face of a wave of opposition to social media being used by teens excessively, the researchers are actually suggesting there is virtually no link between a teen's use of social media and their happiness.

It's one that take a minute or so to adjust to because it is the complete opposite of what everyone in the UK has been writing and reading recently. The usual assumption is that too much screen time -- particularly on social media -- leads to low self-esteem and increases the risk of young, sensitive people being exposed to harmful content. 

Reading between the lines of what the researchers are saying, the argument is that there is very little evidence for this. However, they are offering to work with social media giants to further our understanding of who may be vulnerable to harmful content.

In other words, there is potentially a problem there, but it's only likely to impact a very small proportion of teenagers.

That doesn't make it any less real for them and their families, but according to the Oxford researchers' findings, it does mean that despite sweeping statements, teens spending too much time on social media and on screens is not necessarily a bad thing. 

In fact, to put a number on it, the academics say that less than 1% of a teenager's happiness is related to how much screen time they have each day and how much of their attention is focussed on social media.

The BBC is sensible enough to balance its article on the findings with comments from psychologists that screen time should be avoided before bed, and perhaps most obviously, that a balance needs to be reached between kids looking down at screens and doing something a little more productive and energetic outdoors. 

For parents and social media companies alike, it has to come as a relief that there is evidence that screen time and social media consumption are not automatically bad news for all children. Sure, some will be adversely affected, but the vast majority will not, according to the researchers. 

I would suggest the conversation can now move on to establishing which type of content is most harmful and which types of children are most likely to be affected by too much screen time, so the minority can be better protected.

It seems that we're moving on to a more old-fashioned debate that life is all about balance. Kids who are on screens all the time are missing out on a game of football in the garden or going for a cycle ride with their friends. It doesn't make screens automatically bad, but just something you don't want them on all the time. 

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