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Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living

Obsession with social media ‘fuels anxiety in teenage girls’

Date: 15/8/2019
Summary: Teenage girls who check social media more than three times a day are more likely to be unhappy, anxious and dissatisfied with life, a study suggests.

Experts said the problems were not caused by social media sites but came about because increased social media use put teenagers at higher risk of cyberbullying and lack of sleep and exercise.

They recommended that parents encourage teenagers to leave their phones downstairs when they go to bed and to get plenty of physical exercise.

The study of nearly 10,000 British schoolchildren aged 13-16 found that girls who checked social media multiple times a day had a 38 per cent greater risk of suffering psychological distress.

Nearly three in ten girls (27.5 per cent) who frequently checked social media were found to have signs of psychological distress, compared with two in ten girls (19.9 per cent) who only checked it weekly. The effects were not as clear in boys.

Russell Viner, the lead researcher from the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, said: “Our results suggest that social media itself doesn’t cause harm, but that frequent use may disrupt activities that have a positive impact on mental health such as sleeping and exercising, while increasing exposure of young people to harmful content, particularly the negative experience of cyberbullying.”

For the study, published in the journal The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, researchers analysed data from three sets of interviews with teenagers from 1,000 schools in England, who were contacted aged 13 in 2013, and then in 2014 and 2015.

The children reported how often they checked social media, instant messaging and photo-sharing services, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and WhatsApp, and answered questions on their health and wellbeing. The study did not record how long children spent on social media or what content they looked at.

Teenagers increased their social media use as the study progressed. In 2013 fewer than half checked it multiple times daily but by 2015 nearly 70 per cent did. It is thought that 90 per cent of British teenagers now use social media.

The researchers found that girls who reported persistent frequent social media use in 2013 and 2014, defined as checking accounts more than three times a day, were more likely to have lower life satisfaction and greater anxiety in 2015. The same associations were not found in boys.

Analysis found that 60 per cent of the effect on girls’ wellbeing could be accounted for by the effects of cyberbullying, sleep disruption and a lack of exercise. These factors only accounted for 12 per cent of any psychological distress experienced by the boys who frequently accessed social media. Researchers said that more studies were needed to find out why boys reacted differently.

Dasha Nicholls from Imperial College London, who co-authored the report, said: “The clear sex differences we discovered could simply be attributed to girls accessing social media more frequently than boys, or to the fact that girls had higher levels of anxiety to begin with. Cyberbullying may be more prevalent among girls, or it may be more closely associated with stress in girls than in boys.”

Louise Theodosiou, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “We’ve seen a worrying rise in low mood and depression among girls and young women and this paper helps our understanding of the link between social media use and mental health problems.”

Source: The Times


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