Intensive Use Of Social Media Adversely Affecting Teens
Social media has been a revelation for people from diverse walks of life during the last decade. Farmers in poor Asian countries can avail weather forecasts and agricultural advice, a business can start operations on FB, world news is widely disseminated and a host of other benefits accompany social media. However, the real question to ask is how much social media is too much? Especially for teenagers. Research published in JAMA Psychiatry suggests that 3 hours/day is the breaking point for most teenagers and on the other side reside mental health problems including anxiety, depression, aggression, and anti-social behavior. This comparison is highly relevant in comparison to adolescents who are completely absent from social media.
The study analyzed the age group of 12-15 years, with 6595 participants included. The data analysis was conducted from mid-January to May 22, 2019 and the period under review was 2013-2016 whereby household interviews were conducted for this purpose. The results associated 3 hours and more of social media usage with increased mental health problems, particularly internalizing behavior. This behavior includes withdrawal, anxiety or depression, or directing sentiments inwards. Externalizing behavior may involve acting out, aggression, disobeying instructions, or similar behavior.
Social media access
These findings are critical since 95% of U.S. teens access a smartphone and 75% possess at least one social media account. The benefits for students are worthwhile as information, resources are accessible along with the potential to connect with peers. However, the downside includes cyberbullying and other forms of digital attacks that may lead to extreme outcomes like death. In many cases apart from school, many students live their lives online and spend an atrocious amount of time projecting a suave self-image. Every like, every comment has serious repercussions for their self-confidence and personal image.
The usage of the internet among teens is worth consideration as 17% of respondents had no contact with social media. At the other extreme were 20% of the respondents spent in excess of three hours per day on social media (12% spent between three to six hours on social media and 8% of the population reported in excess of six hours). In between, one-third of adolescents reported less than half an hour of daily social media and 31% confirmed that they spent almost half an hour to three hours on social media.
The effect of social media on teenagers was best described by the lead researcher Kira Riehm, “Many existing research studies have found a link between digital or social media use and adolescent health, but few look at this association across time. Our research study shows that teenagers who report high levels of time spent on social media are much more likely to report internalizing problems a year later. We cannot conclude that social media causes mental health problems, but we do think that less time on social media might be better for teens’ health.”
The research results reported that 59% of participants had low/negligible mental health problems. 18% reported both external and internal problems, while 9% and 14% reported internal and external problems respectively. The correlation between social media use in excess of three hours and internalizing problems was strongly observed. Overall, the study discovered that any extent of social media uses resulted in the presence of internalizing problems and or its combination with externalizing problems. Without the presence of internalizing behavior, there was no correlation between social media use and externalizing behavior. Riehm suggested that possible solutions included a focus on media literacy, establishing reasonable boundaries, and improvement efforts targeting social media’s design.
While we are discussing the subjects of social media and adolescent behavior, it’s important to acknowledge that previous studies have also been conducted in similar aspects. Different studies have cemented the causation between social media usage and social media addiction. Studies have suggested that tech time doesn’t lead to mental health problems and the main target is social media exposure. The constant developments in technology also render findings unstable and there have been efforts by social media companies to make applications even more attractive for users.
The changes in technology mean the gravitational pull of social media is taking adolescents towards TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat. These services are used to share experiences like dining out and even a simple visit to the mall through DMing friends. The richer forms of social interaction i.e. phone calls or a face to face meetings are declining in modern life. The results of the study should be taken with a pinch of salt due to two major reasons. The first reason is that the sample pertains to 2013 to 2016 and there is evidence showing that social media addiction has significantly expanded in recent years. The other reason is that the basis of the research was self-reported information by the respondents and this is too imprecise to reflect actual circumstances i.e. exact time spent on social media or type and severity of mental health problems.
There might be an argument regarding the actual results derived from this study and similar ones especially whether the 3-hour cutoff is a hard and fast rule. However, the researchers have agreed that increased use of social media does not have a positive impact on adolescent’s mental state. Future research can focus on mechanisms of recording actual time spent on social media and the type and severity of mental health problems that may arise as a result. This study has significant implications for parents and educators, as they need to collaborate to discuss ways to restrict social media usage for adolescents. The effervescent use of technology and particularly social media makes this a complicated endeavor.