Increased social media use in early adolescence is diminishing the wellbeing of young girls, according to a new study in BMC Public Health. Researchers asked kids between the ages of 10 and 15 how much time they spent on social media, and then cross-referenced those numbers with data regarding their happiness and wellbeing. The findings suggest that young girls who are hooked on Facebook may be unhappy—and struggling in the real world.
“It is important to monitor early interactions with social media, particularly in girls,” said coauthor on the study Cara Booker, in a statement. “This could have an impact on wellbeing later in adolescence and perhaps throughout adulthood.”
The data consisted of responses from 10,000 adolescents, collected between 2009 and 2015. Researchers asked whether respondents belong to a social website, such as Bebo, Facebook or MySpace and how many hours they spend chatting or interacting with friends through social websites on school days. To measure wellbeing and happiness, adolescents were asked pointed questions about friends, family, appearance, school, school work and life as a whole.
They found that both boys and girls use social media more and get progressively less happy as they get older. But girls were more likely than boys to use social media overall, and were significantly less happy than boys. And, while increases in unhappiness could be correlated to age in boys, it was more clearly correlated to social media use in girls.
There are limitations to the study. Researchers only measured social media usage on school days, so the relationship between social media and wellbeing may be even more pronounced than reported. Beyond that, the findings don’t really explore what is causing the boys’ decrease wellbeing; the study suggests that interactive online video-games may have a role to play but other studies suggest that, for many boys, video games are crucial to the “creation and maintenance of friendships.” Moreover, the survey comes up short when trying to make its claim about how girls are impacted by social media. For example, wellbeing levels were much higher among adolescents of African, Caribbean, and Asian descent. Adolescents who come from low income homes also spend more time interacting on social media.
“Advances in technology have resulted in increases in sedentary behavior and, in the past, solitary activities. However with the creation of social media, it is possible to interact with others while still being separate,” according to the study. “Adolescents are increasingly engaged in social media, and the long-term effects on well-being are not fully known.”