Newly published research casts doubt on the common notion that time spent on social media is increasing anxiety and depression in teenagers.
"We spent 8 years trying to really understand the relationship between time spent on social media and depression for developing teenagers," lead researcher Sarah Coyne, PhD, said about the study, published in Computers in Human Behavior.
"If they increased their social media time, would it make them more depressed? Also, if they decreased their social media time, were they less depressed? The answer is no. We found that time spent on social media was not what was impacting anxiety or depression."
When analyzing social media usage, elements other than the amount of time spent are important, said Dr. Coyne, a professor of family life at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
“For example, two teenagers could use social media for exactly the same amount of time but may have vastly different outcomes as a result of the way they are using it," Dr. Coyne said.
"If you get on specifically to seek out information or to connect with others, that can have a more positive effect than getting on just because you're bored."
Researchers had 500 young people, between the ages of 13 and 20, who completed annual questionnaires on social media use, depressive symptoms, and anxiety levels over 8 years. Individual results were analyzed for correlation.
Participants reported an average social networking use of 31-60 minutes per day at age 13, with the time increasing steadily and reaching upwards of 2 hours per day by young adulthood. But the increases did not predict changes in anxiety or depression one year later, researchers said.
“Hopefully these results can move the field of research beyond its past focus on screen time,” the study team wrote.