Teens Who Spend Too Much Time On Social Media, Television Have Increased Depression

A new study has found that teenagers who consume social media and television at an above average rate tend to suffer more from depression.

According to a team of CHU Sainte-Justine and Université de Montréal scientiststeenagers who use social media and watch television at a higher rate than average are at an increased risk of suffering from depression in their teenage years. The research, published in JAMA Pediatrics, found that for every additional hour over the average a teenager spends on social media or watching television results in more severe depression.

The More Social Media Use, the Worse the Depression

“A significant between-person association indicated that a 1-hour increase in social media use was associated with a 0.64-
unit (on a scale from 0 to 28) increase in the severity of depression symptoms over 4 years,” the researchers wrote. “Analyzing within-person associations, we found that increasing the mean amount of time spent using social media by 1 hour within a given year was associated with a 0.41-unit increase in the severity of depression symptoms within that same year.”

The researchers, who claim this is the first study to analyze the level of depression based on screen types and time, followed 3,826 seventh to 11th graders from 31 schools in Montreal. Students were tracked from 2012 through 2018 and were required to answer questionnaires about their screen time, usage and symptoms of depression. Students were asked to rate their feeling of depression on a scale of 0 to 4. Students who rated their depression a 4 were experiencing extreme symptomswhile those at zero weren’t feeling any depression at all when watching TV or persuing social media.

Not surprisingly, the researchers found teenagers who had a high level of social media use over a four year period tended to have increased depression. Same goes for television when it was above the average.  High levels of computer use during a four-year span also led to increased depression while video games didn’t trigger any depressive symptoms., the researchers found.

Less Screen Time Equals Happier Teens

“The most important finding of the post hoc analyses was that increased social media and television use was associated with lower self-esteem over time. Taking into account the upward social comparison, it might be that repeated exposure to idealized images on social media and television decreases self-esteem,” wrote the researchers.

The researchers did caution that their work did face limitations. For starters, the researchers didn’t distinguish within the screen types the students were looking at. For instance, it didn’t ascertain what social media sites students were frequenting or what types of television programming they were watching.  “To our knowledge, the present study is the first to present a
developmental analysis of variations in depression and various types of screen time. This study indicated that adolescents’ social media and television use should be regulated to prevent the development of depression and to reduce
exacerbation of existing symptoms over time,” the researchers concluded.

The scientists at CHU Sainte-Justine and Université de Montréal aren’t the only ones to link depression to social media. A study by the University of Pennsylvania found in Novemberthat Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram were the cause for decreased well-being.  Those researchers concluded using social media less would significantly decrease feelings of depression and loneliness.

(Source: Interesting Engineering)

Social comparism hypothesis is involved here, where people tend to compare the kind of life they see on social media and television, to reality around them. They see that what they see on social media and television is different from reality. This makes them gradually slide into depression especially if they spend much time on the screen. So experts say it is not because spending so much time on the screen removes you from physical activities which are necessary to improve mood. No, they also say that some studies have suggested that spending time on the screen can be beneficial to life. So what the experts emphasize here is more of content, not time. When you spend so much time on social media or television what you watch matters a lot when it has to do with depression.

The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is a communication researcher with several years of lecturing experience in Nigerian universities.

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