A study by Brigham Young University has found there is no association between the amount of time an adolescent spends on social media and their mental health.
It’s a result which, after eight years of study and community conversation about how social media use impacts mental health, came as a surprise to its researchers.
“We did expect there would be a longitudinal association between social media and mental health,” said Sarah Coyne, a professor in the department of family life at BYU.
Coyne, one of the co-authors on the study, has spent 20 years studying the impact media has on children and adolescents. With the emergence of social media appearing halfway through her career, she began hearing people claim that social media is destroying how youth communicate and blaming it for mental health issues.
The existing research only looked at the short-term impacts of social media, but Coyne wanted to study the potential link for a longer period of time.
What resulted was the study, which included more than 400 families over an eight-year period. The researchers believe it’s the longest existing study on social media and mental health.
The adolescents in the study self-reported both their social media use, along with their mental health symptoms.
Changing social media levels didn’t explain the changes in depressive symptoms a year later, according to the study.
“Social networking did not predict future anxiety,” the study reads.
The study states that people often claim that depression and anxiety is caused by social media use, however, other studies don’t show a clear link.
“Indeed, a recent analysis found that the effect of time spent on social media on mental health was as large in effect size as the impact that eating potatoes has on mental health,” the study reads.
Coyne has recently finished collecting another wave of data that focuses on suicide and suicide ideation by using apps on phones that track how much time is being spent doing specific activities.
Coyne said the results don’t mean that children can be on social media for as long as they want. Instead, she advocates for teaching the younger generation to use social media positively. She suggests interacting with content instead of simply scrolling through it.
“If we can help this generation be more active users on their phone, reach out, empathize with people when they are in pain, support people, as opposed to just lurking, that will have an impact,” she said.
The study was published in Computers in Human Behavior. Coyne’s co-authors include BYU professors Adam Rogers, Laura Stockdale, Jessica Zurcher and McCall Booth, a graduate student.