The amount of time that young people spend on social networks has increased by 62.5 percent since 2012 and continues to grow. Last year, an average of 2.6 hours were spent on social media per day. Critics claim that more screening time increases depression and anxiety among teenagers.
However, a new study by Sarah Coyne, a professor of family life at Brigham Young University, found that the time spent on social media does not directly increase anxiety or depression among teenagers.
"We have tried for eight years to really understand the relationship between the time we spend on social media and depression for developing adolescents," said Coyne of her study published in Computers in Human Behavior. "If they extended their social media time, would it make them depressed? Even if they shortened their social media time, they would be less depressed? The answer is no. We found that it was for social media time spent does not affect anxiety or depression. "
Mental health is a multi-process syndrome where no one is likely to be the cause of depression or anxiety. This study shows that not only the time spent on social media leads to an increase in depression or anxiety in adolescents.
"It's not just the time that is important for most children. For example, two teenagers could use social media for exactly the same amount of time, but they could achieve very different results because of the way they use it," he said Coyne said.
The aim of this study is to help society as a whole to go beyond the debate about screen time and instead examine the context and content of the use of social media.
Coyne has three suggestions to use social media healthier.
Be an active user instead of a passive user. Instead of just scrolling, commenting, posting, and liking other content.
Limit social media use at least an hour before going to sleep. Adequate sleep is one of the most protective factors for mental health.
Be deliberate. First, look at your motivation for dealing with social media.
"If you want to search for specific information or get in touch with others, it can have a more positive effect than just being bored," said Coyne.
To understand the mental health of teenagers and how they use social media, researchers have worked with 500 teenagers aged 13 to 20 who have completed questionnaires once a year for eight years. Social media usage was measured by asking participants how much time they spent on a typical day on social networking sites. To measure depression and anxiety, participants answered questions on different scales to indicate depressive symptoms and anxiety. These results were then analyzed at the individual level to determine whether there was a strong correlation between the two variables.
At the age of 13, adolescents reported an average use of social networks of 31-60 minutes a day. These averages rose steadily so that they were over two hours a day in young adulthood. However, this increase in social networks did not predict future mental health. This means that the increase in social networks among adolescents beyond their typical level did not predict changes in anxiety or depression a year later.
The study was co-authored by BYU professors Adam Rogers, Laura Stockdale, Jessica Zurcher and BYU doctoral student McCall Booth.
Sarah M. Coyne, Adam A. Rogers, Jessica D. Zurcher, Laura Stockdale, McCall Booth. Does time spent using social media impact mental health?: An eight year longitudinal study. Computers in Human Behavior, 2019; 106160 DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2019.106160