Children spend a significant amount of time on social media and depression among young people is on the rise, but there is no conclusive evidence that the two are directly related.
Many children and young people frequently use social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok, which often causes concern among parents and guardians. NTNU researchers have recently gained a better understanding of the impact of such media use on the mental health of young people.
“The prevalence of anxiety and depression is increasing. So is social media use. So many believe there must be a correlation,” says Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). says Shirie Steinbeck, a psychology professor.
But if you believe the study “Social Media Behavior and Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression,” that’s not the case. A four-wave cohort study of 10- to 16-year-olds”.
Initial safety study in Trondheim
In the Trondheim Early Safety Research research project, researchers followed 800 children in Trondheim for six years to see a correlation between social media use and the development of symptoms of mental illness.
“We collected data every other year, from the year the children were 10 years old to the year they turned 16 years old. Anxiety and depression symptoms were identified through diagnostic interviews with both the children and their parents,” Steinbeck explains.
The results of the study were the same for boys and girls. Whether children published posts or photos via their social media pages or liked or commented on posts published by others, the results were the same.
Increased social media use did not increase anxiety or depression symptoms. Nor did those who had more symptoms of anxiety or depression over time change their social media habits.
Norwegian researchers find weak correlation
In recent years, there have been many studies examining the correlation between social media use and mental health in children and young people.
Some studies have found that social media use promotes mental health, while others have found it negatively impacts it. But most of the correlations are weak, says Steinsbeck.
“Mental health is often defined broadly in research, covering everything from self-esteem to depression. Data is often collected using questionnaires. It’s not clear what is happening, and often the focus is on frequency, how much time young people spend on social media,” Steinbeck said.
“By following the same subjects over years, recording their symptoms of mental illness through in-depth interviews, and examining their use of different types of social media, our study allowed us to investigate more closely. , could provide a more nuanced picture of mental illness: correlations,” Steinsbeck said.
A previous study by the same research group showed that about 5 percent of young people in Norway experience depression. Prevalence is lower in children.
1 in 10 children meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder at least once between the ages of 4 and 14.
“Young people’s use of social media is a subject that often provokes strong emotions and has generated a lot of concern among both parents and professionals,” she said.
“We want to provide more knowledge about how social media affects young people’s development and ability to function in society. Who is particularly vulnerable? Benefit from social media Who receives it? Does it matter how you use social media?” she said.
Social support and less loneliness
Steinsbeck and his colleagues have previously found that girls who like and comment on other people’s posts on social media experience a deterioration in body image over time, but this is not the case for boys. Posting on their social media accounts had no impact on self-esteem for either boys or girls.
Over the next few years, the researchers plan to explore how different social media experiences, such as cyberbullying and posting nude photos, affect young people’s development and functioning in society.
“Our study found that Kali and Knut were more likely to develop symptoms of anxiety and depression when they liked or posted on Instagram or Snapchat. , doesn’t mean they don’t have negative experiences on social media or feel addicted or alienated.Some may be particularly vulnerable and we need to identify them.” Steinsbeck says.
At the same time, Steinsbeck points out that social media has a positive side as well.
“Social media provides a place of community and belonging, making it easy to stay in touch with friends and family. Social media provides a platform for social support and helps keep young people with few friends from loneliness.
The Trondheim Early Secure Study has collected data from thousands of children and their parents each year since subjects were four years old. The subject is now 20 years old and the ninth round of data collection will take place this fall.
Reference: “Social Media Behavior and Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression: A Quaternary Cohort Study in Ages 10–16.” Silje Steinsbekk, Jacqueline Nesi, Lars Wichstrom, 1 July 2023, Available here. computer in human behavior.