April 04, 2018
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Social media use diminishes well-being of teenage girls

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Teenage girls who spend increased amounts of time on social media platforms, such as Facebook, experience a significant reduction in overall well-being and happiness between the ages of 10 and 15 years, according to findings published in BMC Public Health.

“While social media allows for interaction between people, it is still a sedentary activity that can be done in a solitary environment,” Cara L. Booker, PhD, from the Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex, UK, and colleagues wrote. “Conversely, social media are often used in group settings. Whether done in isolation or with friends, there may be risks to using social media, which could lead to poorer physical and mental health in adulthood. Risk factors such as social isolation, low self-esteem, increased obesity and decreased physical activity may all contribute to later life health issues.”

To assess whether adolescent well-being was affected by changes in social media use, the researchers used parallel growth models to observe whether these measures were connected across several age groups. All data used in the study were gathered through a youth questionnaire for the Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study, which was completed by children aged between 10 and 15 years.

The questionnaire included questions regarding characteristics of social media use, as well as positive and negative aspects concerning happiness and socioemotional well-being. For information on use, the researchers provided two questions that required responses about which platforms are used and how much time is spent on these sites on a school day. Well-being was assessed through responses about daily life, including friends, family, appearance, school, school work and overall quality of life. These aspects were scored using a seven-point Likert-type scale.

Booker and colleagues also provided 20 questions that examined the negative effects of social media use and covered hyperactivity or inattention, emotional symptoms, behavioral problems and issues in relationships with peers.

Of the 9,859 adolescents that participated, most were white (74%), with the second most prominent ethnic group being Asian (11% males, 12% females). As the teenagers aged, more time was spent interacting on social media regardless of gender; however, the researchers observed that females used these platforms more than their male peers. This attribute remained consistent as the cohort aged.

By 13 years of age, half of the female cohort participated in social media use for longer than 1 hour daily. This statistic was only observable in one-third of the male participants. Furthermore, the number of teenagers using social media for 1 hour or more daily increased to 59% for females and 46% for males by the time they reached 15 years of age.

Data collected from the surveys regarding happiness and well-being were scored between 6 and 42 points, with higher numbers indicating happier lives. Booker and colleagues observed that these scores varied based on the gender and age of the participant. A significant dip in happiness was noted in females between the ages of 10 and 15 years (36.94 [95% CI, 36.73-37.15] vs. 33.33 [95% CI, 33.10-33.57]). 

The researchers also noted that among females, those who reported clinically relevant responses on the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) had a score nearly seven points lower than those who did not have clinically significant SDQ scores (6.75; 95% CI, 6.31-7.88; 1.42 of a happiness SD). This difference (3.44 points [95% CI, 3.00-3.89]) between 10- and 15-year-old females accounts for 0.70 of the total standard deviation across all age groups for all females in the cohort.

Although males also reported being less happy between the ages of 10 and 15, this reduction was smaller than the one observed for female participants. At 10 years, happiness scores were observed at 36.02 (95% CI, 35.80-36.24), and this score dropped to 34.55 by the age of 15 (95% CI, 34.33-34.78).

When these scores were taken into consideration along with social media use, a significant connection between the use of these platforms and well-being in females was observed. The researchers suggest that when female adolescents spend greater amounts of time using social media, they report lower happiness scores and greater socioemotional difficulties at 10 years of age.

Additionally, when females increased their social media interaction at 10 years of age, their SDQ scores increased as they grew older (path coefficient, 0.10; 95% CI, 0.004-0.19). This relationship became significant concerning the happiness model in this population (coefficient, 0.0; 95% CI, 0.13 to 0.01).

“Social media interaction increases with age during adolescence, and the current generation is not expected to reduce their use once they enter adulthood,” Booker and colleagues wrote. “It is therefore important to educate adolescents, specifically females, and their parents on the consequences of high levels of use at young ages on their future well-being, not just in later adolescence but in adulthood as well.” – by Katherine Bortz

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.