The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Big Number: 3 or more hours a day of social media use hurts youths’ mental health

Might time spent on social media — YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the like — affect young people’s mental health? Yes, says a report by Johns Hopkins and other researchers, published in JAMA Psychiatry. For instance, they found that 12- to 15-year-olds who typically spent three or more hours a day on social media were about twice as likely to experience depression, anxiety, loneliness, aggression or antisocial behavior as were adolescents who did not use social media. As the youths’ social media time increased, so did their risk, making them four times more likely than nonusers to have these problems if they spent more than six hours a day on social media.

Of the group participating in the research — a nationally representative sample of 6,595 adolescents living in the United States in 2013 to 2014 — just 17 percent said they did not use social media. Among those who did use social media, 32 percent reported using it 30 minutes or less every day, 31 percent said roughly 30 minutes to three hours, and 12 percent said three to six hours. Another 8 percent said they spent more than six hours a day on social media.

The study did not determine why social media was linked to mental health issues. But the researchers suspect that heavy use may lead to sleep problems that can contribute to such issues, increase the risk for cyberbullying, which has been tied to symptoms of depression, and result in unrealistic comparisons of yourself and your life to those of others seen on social media. They also noted that their analysis adjusted for any previous mental health issues, saying this “mitigates the possibility that reverse causality explains these findings.” The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to develop a family media use plan and includes information on its website on how to do this.

 Linda Searing

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