The association between frequent social media use and psychological distress among teen girls may be explained, in large part, by three factors, suggests a longitudinal study in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.
Roughly 10,000 U.K. adolescents answered a series of lifestyle and mental health questionnaires between the ages of 13 and 16. Some 43% reported using social media multiple times daily at ages 13–14, rising to 69% at ages 15–16. Among the other findings:
• Girls who used social media multiple times daily at ages 13–14 were more likely to later report psychological distress compared with those who used social media weekly or less (28% vs. 20%). Among boys, the difference was smaller (15% vs. 10%).
• Girls, but not boys, with persistently frequent social media use between ages 13 and 15 had greater odds of decreased life satisfaction, decreased happiness, and increased anxiety later.
• Cyberbullying, inadequate sleep, and insufficient physical activity accounted for nearly 60% of the association between social media use and psychological distress among girls — but only 12% among boys.
The researchers conclude, “Interventions to reduce social media use to improve mental health might be misplaced.”