maybe social media isn't as bad for teens as we thought

New research found no correlation between screen time and negative effects on mental health.

by Erica Euse
26 August 2019, 5:49pm

Image via YouTube.

Numerous studies have linked social media and adverse affects to teens' mental health, but new research published last week suggests we may have gotten it wrong.

A team of researchers at UC Irvine surveyed over 2,000 young people between the ages of 10 and 15, and tracked a subsample of nearly 400 North Carolina public school students, to understand their smartphone use. Over the course of two weeks beginning in 2016, they looked at whether the teens who engaged more with their phones were more likely to experience mental health symptoms overtime. They also analyzed whether their mental health was worse on days when they reported spending more versus less time on technology. In both cases, there was no correlation between tech use and negative effects on their mental health—in some instances, it was actually the opposite.

"Contrary to the common belief that smartphones and social media are damaging adolescents' mental health, we don't see much support for the idea that time spent on phones and online is associated with increased risk for mental health problems," Michaeline Jensen, assistant professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, said in a statement.

Teens who communicated more over texts during the study, actually reported feeling less depressed than teens who were less frequent texters.

While this research doesn't discount the fact that social media can take a toll on mental health, it does put into question how we view teens and technology.

Another recent study published in the journal The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health earlier this month, found that the relationship between social media and depression in teens is more complex than experts thought—specifically for girls.

Through interviews with almost 10,000 children between the ages of 13 and 16 in England between 2013 and 2015, researchers found that the real detriment of social media was that it was increasing girls' exposure to bullying and reducing their sleep and physical exercise. Proving, it wasn't necessarily social media that was to blame for teen girl's higher rate of depression, but the context in which they were using it.

As Candice Odgers, a researcher and professor of psychological science at the University of California, Irvine, said in a statement regarding the new UCI study, "It may be time for adults to stop arguing over whether smartphones and social media are good or bad for teens' mental health and start figuring out ways to best support them in both their offline and online lives."

mental health
Social Media