ISLAMABAD: All those hours teens spend on Instagram or Snapchat could mess with their minds differently, depending on their gender, a new study has found.
When girls suffered poor mental health linked to heavy social media use, it seemed to be driven by a combination of being exposed to cyberbullying, missing out on sleep or not getting enough exercise, British researchers reported Tuesday in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.
Boys weren’t as affected by those factors, suggesting there were “other mechanisms” by which heavy social media use affected their mental health, though the researchers couldn’t yet pinpoint what they were.
“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,” said lead author Russell Viner, a professor of adolescent health at the University College London Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, in a statement.
That means social media use among teens “need not be as negative as often assumed,” especially if they can be encouraged to get enough sleep and exercise and learn how to deal with cyberbullying, added Ann DeSmet, a researcher in the department of movement and sports sciences at Ghent University in Belgium, in an accompanying commentary.
“The idea is to promote other positive habits rather than saying to kids, ‘You can’t be on social media as much,’” Jill Emanuele, senior director of the Mood Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute in New York, told TODAY. She was not involved in the study.
The study defined “very frequent social media use” as using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and WhatsApp three or more times a day, though the data didn’t show how much time the teens actually spent on the platforms.
The more often girls checked social media, the greater their psychological distress, but this effect was not as clear in boys, the study found.
Still, heavy social media use predicted later poor mental health and well-being in both sexes, with exposure to cyberbullying and the disruption of sleep and exercise seemingly responsible for the effect on girls, the study found. In boys, those factors played less of a role, the authors noted.