Cyberbullying and inadequate sleep explained these associations in girls, and to a lesser degree in boys.
Studies of the effects of social media use on teens' mental health have shown mixed results, and most have not followed teens over time. These researchers analyzed data from a longitudinal study in England that followed 12,866 teens from age 13 to 16 years with a series of surveys on social media use and psychological well-being.
“Very frequent” social media use (>3 times per day) was common and increased from age 13 to 16 (from 34% to 62% in boys, and 51% to 75% in girls). Compared with teens who used social media <1 time per week, girls with very frequent social media use were 31% more likely to have psychological distress at age 14 to 15 and boys were 67% more likely. Girls with persistently high social media use had lower well-being, life satisfaction, and happiness, and more anxiety. In girls, cyberbullying, poor sleep quality, and low physical activity accounted for most of the association between social media use and psychological distress and well-being, whereas in boys these factors accounted for only a small amount.
This study provides solid evidence of a link between frequent social media use and worse psychological health in teens. Social media use should be discussed at tween and teen well visits, to encourage strategies such as keeping devices out of bedrooms, using “nightshift” or “do not disturb” settings, or turning off Wi-Fi at night. Cyberbullying can be addressed through school curricula (parents can ask schools to use a new digital citizenship curriculum https://www.commonsense.org/education/digital-citizenship) and by parent–teen conversations about upsetting content children may see online. Finally, activities such as face-to-face time with friends, sports, or clubs might help avoid boredom-induced social media checking.
Viner RM et al. Roles of cyberbullying, sleep, and physical activity in mediating the effects of social media use on mental health and wellbeing among young people in England: A secondary analysis of longitudinal data. Lancet Child Adolesc Health 2019 Aug 13; [e-pub]. (https://doi.org/10.1016/S2352-4642(19)30186-5)