Girls experience the negative effects of social media use aged 11-13, while boys feel this later at 14-15 – scientists find teens who use social media more, have a lower life satisfaction
Girls are often more vulnerable to the negative effects of social media use at an earlier age than boys, yet both are at risk at different age groups of being less satisfied in life with too much social media use.
UK data shows, girls experience a negative link between social media use and life satisfaction when they are 11-13 years old and boys when they are 14-15 years old.
Negative effects of social media use can involve bullying, comparison, body dysmorphia, depression, anxiety, distraction, and can often generate an unrealistic perception of one’s life.
The negative effects of social media use can be linked to developmental changes in teenagers, where changes in the structure of the brain or changes during puberty may be experienced with obsessive use – however, this has been found to occur later in boys than in girls.
Pinpointing which individuals might be more influenced by social media
Possible social changes – such as leaving home or starting work – may make people more vulnerable to excessive social media use. As social media has fundamentally changed how young people spend time, this has led to widespread concern about its potential negative impact.
According to research published today by the Oxford Internet Institute, in a study published in Nature Communications, researchers analysed two UK datasets comprising some 84,000 individuals between the ages of 10 and 80 years old.
Including longitudinal data – data that tracks individuals over a period of time – on 17,400 young people aged 10-21 years old, they found that social media use at the age of 19 years was again associated with a decrease in life satisfaction.
Though there is still considerable uncertainty about how social media relates to wellbeing, researchers looked for a connection between estimated social media use and reported life satisfaction, and found that important periods of adolescence where social media use was associated with a subsequent decrease in life satisfaction.
Teens who have lower than average life satisfaction later use more social media
The researchers aim to further look at social media use effects and encourage conversations from parents, schools, governments and social media companies develop a better understanding of what is drives these changes across the age groups and between genders.
Dr Amy Orben, from the University of Cambridge, who led the study, said: “The link between social media use and mental wellbeing is clearly very complex. Changes within our bodies, such as brain development and puberty, and in our social circumstances appear to make us vulnerable at particular times of our lives.
“I wouldn’t say that there is a specific age group we should all be worried about. We should all be reflecting on our social media use and encouraging those conversations but we need to understand what is driving these changes across the age groups and between genders.
“There are very large individual differences, so there may be certain teenagers that benefit from their use of social media whilst at the same time, someone else is harmed.”
Dr Orben added: “With our findings, rather than debating whether or not the link exists, we can now focus on the periods of our adolescence where we now know we might be most at risk and use this as a springboard to explore some of the really interesting questions.”
“It’s not about social media being good or bad, it’s about what young people are up to, why they are using it, and how they feel about it fits into the greater picture of family life.”
The researchers call on social media companies to share their data with independent scientists, and for governments to tackle online harms by introducing legislation to compel these companies to be more open.
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