Too much social media might be too much for the mental well-being of teenagers, new research suggests.
The more that teens used social media and watched television, the greater their risk of depression, the study found.
“Our research reveals that increased time spent using some forms of digital media in a given year predicts depressive symptoms within that same year,” said senior study author Patricia Conrod, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Montreal.
Just how might the connection work?
According to the study co-author Elroy Boers, “Social media and television are forms of media that frequently expose adolescents to images of others operating in more prosperous situations, such as other adolescents with perfect bodies and a more exciting or rich lifestyle.” Boers is a post-doctoral researcher in the department of psychiatry at the university.
The study included nearly 4,000 Canadian teens who were followed between ages 12 and 16. Each year, the teens provided information about their amounts of four different types of screen time: social media, television, video gaming and computer use.
The teens also completed questionnaires on various depressive symptoms over the four years of the study.
Higher-than-average social media use and time in front of the television were associated with more severe symptoms of depression. And the more time teens used social media and watched TV, the more severe their depression symptoms, the findings showed.
Higher levels of video gaming and computer use weren’t associated with depression symptoms.
The findings could prove useful in preventing depression in teens, the study authors said.
“Regulating teens’ social media and television use might be one way to help young people manage depressed mood or vulnerability to depressive symptoms,” Conrod said in a university news release.
A child psychiatrist said the findings call for due diligence from parents.
“Adolescents’ social media and television use should be regulated to prevent the development of depression and to reduce existing symptoms,” contends Dr. Victor Fornari. He’s vice chair of child & adolescent psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y.
Conrod said that “many people attribute increasing rates of depression among young people in North America to the recent introduction of mobile digital devices to our society. The study’s findings indicate social media use and television viewing are important predictors of depression in adolescence.”
Further research is needed to confirm that social media use is linked with higher rates of depression in teens, she added. The study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between depression and heavy social media or television use.