Too much time using apps like Snapchat and Instagram could be having a negative impact on mental health.
While our children pick away at devices and clock significant amounts of time using social media, evidence mounts that too much time spent on these apps and sites is having a negative impact on their mental health. A study published this year in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology finds the percentage of U.S. teens and young adults who report mental distress, depression and suicidal thoughts and actions is up dramatically over the past decade.
At the time of the release, the study’s author’s noted the rise in smartphone and social media use is a significant factor in higher rates of depression.
And it appears girls may be more vulnerable than boys to mental health impacts from social media. A study published recently in the Lancet’s EClinicalMedicine journal finds a definitive connection between depression in teenagers and social media use. The study looked at more than 11,000 14-year-olds in the UK, and revealed that girls who are depressed tend to use social media more than boys.
The nearly 40 percent of girls who spent more than five hours a day on apps like Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and WhatsApp showed signs of depression. That compared with just 14.5 percent of boys
Dr. Kim Metcalfe, a retired professor of early childhood education and psychology, and author of "Let’s Build ExtraOrdinary Youth Together," says the findings are not surprising.
“Girls and boys socialize differently,” said Metcalfe. “Girls socialize verbally more than boys do as they age. Boys continue socializing using physical activities and/or video games. Girls use social media differently compared to boys. For example, a boy is more likely to reach out to a friend and ask if they can play a video game, whereas a girl will spend hours on social media gossiping if they are a bully or if they want to be liked by a bully or a click led by a bully. Girls want to fit in using social media as a primary platform. Boys want to have fun and compete using games as a primary platform.”
Metcalfe said the premium placed on beauty and image on social media is likely also taking a toll on young girls.
“Social media also puts a magnifying glass on body image and beauty,” she said. “Girls use social media filters to make themselves look better, and girls see these images of each other causing constant endless comparisons—seeking a perfection that is impossible.”
With this in mind, it is important for parents to have a conversation with their kids about social media use and how it could be impacting mental health. And familiarize yourself with the symptoms of depression so that you can recognize if your kid is struggling with it. Metcalfe suggests limiting social media for teens and to have house rules and policies around social media use.
“There are numerous apps that allow parents to control screen time and access to certain platforms,” she said. “Check to see what is going on in your child’s social media—this is not breaking privacy expectations: The phone belongs to the person who purchased it, and if that same person provides a smart phone to a child they have the right to keep their child safe. Kids use the phone as long as they play by the rules.”
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