A she studies published today in the journal JAMA Psychiatry suggests that adolescents who spend more than three hours a day on social media are more likely to develop mental health problems including depression, anxiety, aggression and antisocial behavior.
I study: Nearly 6,600 Americans aged 12 to 15 have self-reported how much time they spent on social media per day and if they had mental health problems. The researchers found that three hours of social media were correlated with higher rates of mental health problems, even after adapting to a history of such problems.
How teenagers absorb social media: The effects of social media consumption on adolescents manifest themselves in two main ways, according to the authors of the study: internally (depression and anxiety, for example) and externally (aggressive behavior or antisocial behavior). The latter were essentially non-existent among adolescents who reported not having used social media.
But this is old news … right? Researchers have long struggled to understand how social media, screen timeand other forms of personal technology influence the brain development of children and adolescents. Much of this is due to the fact that that technology develops faster than can be studied. It also does not help researchers to come to conflicting conclusions. For example, this she studies from last month at the University of California, Irvine, suggested that there was no link between technological time and mental health. Social media, however, could be different: this she studies published at the beginning of this year found a worrying link between the use of social media and dependence on social media.
Social media is changing faster than we know how to understand it. The information has been self-reported, which means that the study is a rather inaccurate tool: adolescents in the study could actually use social media more than they claim, or their mental health problems could differ in type or severity from what they reported. But it is difficult to take an objective look at this kind of thing, especially when the services that people use proliferate. Today teenagers are much less likely to use Facebook and are more likely to browse TikTok. They are also using social media differently, Snapchatting or Instagram DMing call the style of text messaging, which may explain why some guys are so much on social media in the first place.
Everything in moderation: Kira Riehm, a doctoral student at Johns Hopkins and lead author of the study, says the three-hour cut should not be considered a concrete rule. "I think this could be more of an analysis artifact than a significant cut," he says. "I don't know if, by itself, this means a lot. Future studies could track, in real time, the amount of time spent using social media, which would provide greater accuracy in estimating some sort of limit." It is the broadest point of the study that Riehm says is worth remembering: excessive time on social media does not help people's mental state.