Latest reports indicate that smartphones are now in the hands of 81% of Americans and 97% of adolescents use social media daily. Phone use has become a signal and a target for pointing out societies ills but is it warranted? Facebook has 2.4 billion active users, or put another way, about 31% of the World’s population. Social media use remains high for leading players like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. In about 25% of adolescents, social media use can contribute to negative perceptions of self; this can take the form of social comparison and bullying. Positives are the connection to friends and staying current on national and global issues.
A new paper by Kira Riehm and colleagues from John Hopkins University, published in JAMA Psychiatry adds more context to social media use and mental health. The authors used the Population Health Assessment of Tobacco (PATH) dataset, which is a longitudinal cohort and a nationally representative sample of adolescents. A strength of this work when compared to prior studies is the authors controlled for mental health status from the outset. The study examined whether adolescents would internalize or externalize their problems based on a higher exposure to social media. The cohort included three waves of 6295 adolescents aged 12-15 years old and was 51.4% male. Results from wave three showed 9.1% of adolescents reporting internalizing problems while 14% reported externalizing problems and 17% indicating both. The remainder reported low or no issues. Other waves show no social media use in 16% of the study sample with 31.8% reporting use of 30 mins or less a day, and 8.4%% reporting more than six hours of use daily.
Findings suggest that adolescents who internalize problems may also be at increased risk for cyberbullying, which is related to depression. Reducing social media use alone may not be the panacea we expect as adolescents may impacted to varying degrees by what they are consuming per this study. Other mechanisms may also be in play; social media use may interfere with healthy sleep patterns which would negatively impact mental health. The focus for the future should include media literacy training and determining what aspects of social media platforms contribute to wellbeing. Teaching adolescents how to use social media safely and social skills to navigate our ever-increasing digital and physical lives seems prudent.
Thanks for reading – Trina
(Opinions are my own)
Pew Research Mobile Phone Use
Facebook Membership Numbers
Associations between time spent using social media and internalizing and externalizing problems among US Youth.