For every “like” or nice comment on social media, there seem to be five more that are intent on putting others down. And it’s easy to assume that, especially for adolescent women, these negative comments are what’s wearing on their mental health and wellbeing. But that’s not the whole story, according to a new study published in the journal The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.
For the study, researchers from Imperial College London and the University College London interviewed nearly 10,000 teens in England, aged 13 to 16, over the course of three years. During each interview, participants noted how many times they would check social media, how much they were sleeping, how much physical activity they were getting, and how they were doing psychologically. Unsurprisingly, the researchers found a clear link between increased social media use and depression. But the real reason was because it displaces other activities, such as sleep, and opens the door to cyberbullying.
The researchers found that 60 percent of the psychological distress in the teen girls studied could be accounted for by poor sleep quality and increased exposure to cyberbullying, as opposed to the actual acts of tweeting, Snapping, or ‘Gramming.
“Our results suggest that social media itself doesn’t cause harm, but that frequent use may disrupt activities that have a positive impact on mental health, such as sleeping and exercising, while increasing exposure of young people to harmful content, particularly the negative experience of cyberbullying,” study co-author Russell Viner of the University College London’s Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health said in a statement.
As Viner told The Guardian, “While we obsess a lot about social media, how much do we obsess about how much our young people sleep? Not very much—but it is a more important factor, actually, in determining their mental health.”
Teenagers need far more hours of sleep than adults per night to function, and with all the digital communication on top of the growing amounts of homework, most of them are not getting it. According to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the average amount of sleep that teenagers get is about seven hours, but they need about nine and a half hours to be at their best. And as the state of teens’ mental health and rising suicide rates continue to be a concern, it seems clear that fewer hours spent on WhatsApp and more hours spent catching those Z’s is at least a good place to start. And for more on ways social media affects our wellbeing, here are 20 Ways Social Media Stresses Us Out.
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