According to a new study, social media use was “no more harmful” to young people’s mental health than television did to teenagers in the 1990s.
Oxford University researchers used data from three major surveys to study the lives of more than 400,000 young people in the UK and US.
It is widely believed that new technology, especially social media, is responsible for the deterioration in the mental health of young people and a range of other social ills.
The team examined the links between the use of technology and mental health problems in teenagers, saying the link between the two was “thin at best.”
They found a limited link between emotional problems and social media, but not a “smoking weapon” indicating broader mental health problems associated with its use.
Oxford University researchers used data from three major surveys to study the lives of more than 400,000 young people in the UK and US
WHAT IS SMARTPHONE ADDICTION?
The term “smartphone addiction” has been criticized frequently in the scientific literature.
Some experts argue that the lack of serious negative consequences when compared to other forms of addiction makes the name misleading.
Some say the problem is not with the smartphone, it is simply a medium for accessing social media and the internet.
Instead, alternative terms such as “problematic smartphone use” and concepts were suggested.
Despite the controversy surrounding the term “smartphone addiction” described above, it is still the predominant term in the scientific world.
In addition, the psychometric instruments used in many studies explicitly refer to the concept of “smartphone addiction”.
In the coming years, a shift away from the term “smartphone addiction” towards more appropriate terms, as explained above, could be observed.
The lead author Dr. Matt Vuorre says this concern is neither new nor well justified by current data.
He compared the “fear of social media” to “square eyes” warnings when kids watch too much television or when the radio turns teenagers into a crime-ridden life.
Then as now, says Dr. Vuorre, the popular idea does not seem to be backed by hard evidence or that the use of technology has become more harmful over time.
“An understanding of 21st century adolescence would be incomplete without acknowledging the social media platforms and other digital technologies that have become an integral part of young people’s everyday lives in recent decades,” the team wrote.
The study included three large surveys of young people who shared their personal use of technology and various mental health issues.
Using this large data set, the team examined the links between technology use and mental health issues, and whether these had increased over time.
They explored this question by modeling four different mental health outcomes using three forms of technology use in three large nationally representative datasets.
From these eight models, they found a clinically relevant, self-reported mental health outcome, depression, where links with technology use had become consistently less negative over time.
However, that decline has been seen for both television and social media.
According to Dr. Vuorre, these survey responses do not link technology use to mental health problems.
They found a limited link between emotional problems and social media, but not a “smoking weapon” indicating broader mental health problems associated with its use
He said they still show that technologies have become more harmful over time.
“For example, we found some limited associations between social media use and emotional problems,” he said.
The researcher added, “It’s hard to know why they’re connected.”
‘It could be a number of factors [perhaps people with problems spend more time on social media seeking peer support?] .
“Furthermore, there was little evidence that these associations had increased over time.”
According to the new study, “Over the past decade, technological engagement has been less associated with depression, but use of social media has been more associated with emotional problems.”
The study concludes, “The argument that rapid changes to social media platforms and devices over the past decade have made them more harmful to adolescent mental health is therefore not strongly supported by the current data. “
These findings do not mean that technology is good or bad or getting worse for adolescents, as “it is difficult to determine the role of technology in young people’s lives”.
“Even with some of the larger amounts of data available to scientists, it is difficult to definitively determine the role technology plays in young people’s lives and the potential impact of its effects over time,” said Dr. Vuorre.
It is widely believed that new technology, especially social media, is responsible for the deterioration in the mental health of young people and a range of other social ills
“Scientists work hard on these questions, but their work is made difficult by the fact that most of the data on online behavior is hidden in technology company data warehouses.”
In the context of older technologies such as television, knowledge of the use of social media and digital devices is necessarily limited by their comparatively short existence.
Hence, researchers say their results may partly reflect the shorter observation window of social media and digital device usage compared to television.
Dr. Vuorre adds: “We need more transparent research collaborations between independent researchers and technology companies. Before we do that, we are generally in the dark. ‘
The results were published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.
METHODS FOR PARENTS TO KEEP YOUR CHILDREN SAFE ONLINE
Children as young as two use social media, research by Barnardo’s charity has shown.
Internet companies are being pushed to do more about harmful online content, but parents can also take steps to change how their children use the Internet.
Here are some suggestions on how parents can help their children.
Use parental controls
Both iOS and Google have features that parents can use to filter content and set time limits for apps.
For iOS devices such as an iPhone or iPad, you can use the screen time feature to block certain apps, content types, or features.
On iOS 12 you can do this by going to the settings and selecting the screen time.
For Android, you can install the Family Link app from the Google Play Store.
Talk to your children
Many charities, including the NSPCC, say it’s important to talk to children about their online activities to keep them safe.
The site has a number of tips on how to start a conversation with kids about using social media and the wider internet. This includes parents visiting websites with their children to learn about them together and to discuss how to stay safe online and act responsibly.
Understand your internet usage
Parents have tools available to help them learn more about how social media platforms work.
Net Aware, a website operated in partnership by NSPCC and O2, provides information on social media websites, including instructions on age requirements.
Limit screen time
The World Health Organization recommends that parents limit young children to 60 minutes of screen time every day.
The guidelines, released in April, suggest that children between the ages of two and five are limited to one hour of sedentary screening time each day.
They also recommend babies avoid sedentary screen time, including watching TV or sitting still and playing games on devices.