Everyone Says Social Media Is Bad for Teens. Proving It Is Another Thing.

Public warnings have been louder and louder that social media is negatively impacting the mental health of teens, with the US Surgeon General recently announcing that all the money you spend on your cell phone Many parents are increasingly concerned about how time is affecting their children’s brains.

Many scientists share this concern, but few studies have proven that social media is harmful or which sites, apps, or features are problematic. There isn’t even a common definition of what social media is. This leaves parents, policy makers, and other adults without clear guidance on what to worry about in the lives of teens.

“We have some guiding evidence, but this is a scenario we need to know more about,” said Jacqueline Neshi, a psychologist at Brown University. the study topic.

Surgeon General Dr Vivek Morsi said: warned last month It said there was a “significant risk of harm” on social media, but did not name any apps or websites. His report acknowledges that “there is no single, widely accepted academic definition of social media.”

Most research focuses on platforms that allow people to interact, with user-generated content. But it raises many questions. Does it matter if teens see posts from people they know or people they don’t know? Does it matter if they post or just watch? Do you want a dating app? group text?

YouTube presents its challenges. It’s by far the most popular site among teens, with 95% using it and almost 20% using it “almost always” (Pew Research Center). found. It has all the features of social media, but is not included in most studies.

Some researchers believe that teens often use YouTube passively, like TV, and they don’t post or comment as often as other apps, so YouTube isn’t as bad as it used to be. I’m guessing. Alternatively, it could carry the same risks as TikTok, which offers infinite scrolling and algorithmic recommendations similar to TikTok, the researchers say. In any case, there are no clear data.

A review of existing research on social media use and adolescent mental health found that the majority of the results were:weak, “inconsistent,“”inconclusive“”Bag with various findings” and “Lack of quality and “contradictory evidence weighs on it.

Research has yet to reveal which sites, apps, and features of social media affect mental health. Psychologist and psychologist Sophia Choukas-Bradley said, “There is not enough evidence to tell parents to delete certain apps, or to quit apps after a certain amount of time.” said. directed by Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh Teen and Young Adult Institute.

It is also difficult to prove whether social media causes or correlates with worsening mental health. most studies Many, but not all, found a correlation when measuring time spent on social media and mental health symptoms. But other researchers argue that simply measuring time spent isn’t enough. It’s unclear from these studies whether social media time or time away from other things, such as exercise or sleep, is an issue. And research has also made it unclear whether people spend hours looking at screens, for example, to escape emotional pressure or to ask friends for support.

Several studies have attempted new approaches to these problems. onein the early days of Facebook’s rollout in the mid-2000s, compared university campuses that accepted access to Facebook with those that did not, and found that the introduction of Facebook had a negative impact on students’ mental health. Did.

carefully designed research, project awesome at the University of Amsterdam and the Erasmus University of Rotterdam, see both It explores the average impact of social media on 1,000 surveyed adolescents and how it varies from individual to individual, and follows them over time. time spent on social media few factors than a teenager Feeling in use.

Other studies have used brain scans to show that in adolescence: saw a like Or checking the feed frequently activated the brain’s sensitivity to social rewards and punishments.

Psychologist Amy Orben, who heads the Digital Mental Health Group at the University of Cambridge, said there is “mostly a small negative correlation” between social media use and mental health. . “But we don’t know what’s underlying it. It’s possible that people who feel sick are starting to use social media more, and it’s possible that social media is making them feel worse. Alternatively, socioeconomic status and other factors may drive the association.”

Overall research find Social media is neither inherently beneficial nor harmful, and its impact depends on the individual and what they view.

“You can’t say, ‘Don’t do X, don’t do Y, don’t do Z,'” said Amanda Lenhart, head of research at Common Sense Media. “Unlike television and movies, it’s impossible to know in advance what your kids will see on social media,” she said. It may also be the content of

Teenagers with specific vulnerabilities — etc. low self-esteempoor body image again social struggle — seem to be the most at experiment Exposure to manipulated images was found to directly lead to poor body image, especially for girls who tended to compare themselves to others.another found Using social media to compare ourselves to others and seek approval has been found to be associated with symptoms of depression, especially for teens who are socially struggling.

Social media often has both positive and negative effects on the same person. Project Awesome has found uses for: related High levels of both depression or anxiety and happiness or happiness

and common sense reportAdolescent girls with symptoms of depression were more likely than girls without symptoms to say that social media made other people’s lives look better than their own, and that social media made them feel better socially. They were also more likely to say their connections had strengthened. They found mental health resources and harmful suicidal content on social media. Overall, most girls were neutral about the impact of social media features.

Academic research takes a long time, often years, to secure funding, develop research, hire staff, recruit participants, analyze data, and submit for publication. Recruiting minors is even more difficult. By the time a study is published, teenagers have often migrated to another platform. For example, many studies on specific platforms i am on facebook, most teens don’t use anymore. Tech companies also don’t share enough data to help researchers understand the impact of their products, according to the Surgeon General’s report.

Experts said they hoped the study would test: specific type Learn about social media content, how adolescent social media use affects adults, how social media affects neural pathways, and how to protect adolescents from adverse effects.

Psychologists Jonathan Haidt and Jean Twenge, who have expressed great concern about the impact of social media on teens, said: was suggested An experiment in which entire middle schools were randomly assigned to avoid social media or not.

Experts agreed that waiting for a study was not an option. They also largely agreed that some social media use was beneficial. “Given that social media is where social interaction takes place, not using social media at all has detrimental negative effects on development,” said Professor Choukas Bradley.

Researchers say social media rules should be set according to the maturity and challenges of individual teens, and addressing risks should be the responsibility of technology companies and policy makers, not just parents. said. They agreed on some steps parents can take right now.

  • setting limitespecially at bedtime.

  • Don’t give young teenagers smartphones anytime soon. Start with a smartwatch or mobile phone without internet.

  • Talk to teens: Show them what they see, ask how they feel about it, and discuss privacy and safety.

  • make family screen time plan Consider which activities increase stress or provide long-term satisfaction.

  • Create your own model of using the Internet responsibly.

It’s not about monitoring specific apps, said Professor Caleb T. Carr. communication At Illinois State University, “Instead, parents should engage with their children. Talk about respect for , talk about how your day was.”

Graphics provided by Alicia Parlapiano

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