Social media has a ‘tiny’ impact on the happiness of teenagers, newly-released research shows, with family, friends and school life all making a bigger mark.
A study of 12,000 British teenagers has shown that links between social media use and life satisfaction are ‘small at best’, although further research is needed to fully understand the role that social media plays in young people’s lives. The study took place between 2009 and 2017, with researchers at the University of Oxford’s saying it’s the most in-depth and robust of its kind to date.
Parents and health professionals have long been concerned that social media and screen time have adverse effects on children’s health and wellbeing, with disrupted sleep, low self-esteem and peer pressure commonly cited. But the study, published in science journal PNAS, found that social media use is not, in itself, a strong predictor of life satisfaction among adolescents and its effects are ‘nuanced’. Researchers also noted that results may differ depending on gender and how the data is analysed.
The study concluded that most links between life satisfaction and social media use accounted for less than one percent of a teenager's wellbeing. Director of research Prof Andrew Przybylski said: "99.75% of a person's life satisfaction has nothing to do with their use of social media."
"Parents shouldn't worry about time on social media - thinking about it that way is wrong. We are fixated on time, but we need to retire this notion of screen time. The results are not showing evidence for great concern."
The study asked the teenagers to say how long they spent using social media on a normal school day, as well as rating how satisfied they were with different aspects of life. Researchers now want to identify young people at greater risk from certain effects of social media and discover other factors that have an impact on their wellbeing. The team also plans to meet social media companies in the near future to discuss how they can learn more about how young people use apps, not just the time spent on them.
In March, the Royal College of Psychiatrists called on all psychiatrists to consider the impact of social media on all children they assess for mental health problems, saying that questions about technology use should be a routine part of those assessments.
It also called publicly for social media firms to help fund new research into the links between technology use and mental illness, with these calls to be included in a report, due to be published later this year, about its stance on technology use and children’s mental health.
In Mental Health Awareness Month, did you know that child and teenage mental health is covered by a number of our family health insurance policies? A family policy covers all named members of your family, with children usually covered until their 18th birthday or until they finish full time education.
To find the right cover for you, compare family private medical insurance online. And if you’re worried about a teenager close to you, our guide to spotting the signs of anxiety and depression can help.