The ubiquity of social media has changed a great deal about how we live our lives, including how we communicate and connect with one another. And it’s something a lot of us participate in. For example, Facebook alone claims nearly 3 billion users around the globe.
But with the rise of social media and the unprecedented access to information and people, health experts have raised numerous warnings about how social media affects our mental well being, including how it increases our risk for anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. These concerns are especially pronounced in younger, still developing, populations, such as teenagers. Studies have shown that frequent social media use in teenagers, for example, increases the risk for mental health problems.
Even still, understanding when and how social media affects teenagers’ well being is difficult to understand. A new study published in Nature Communications seeks to shed some light on this difficult connection, suggesting that teenage boys and girls are more susceptible to the negative effects of social media at different ages in their teenage years.
A research team from the University of Cambridge, Oxford, and the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition, and Behaviour, reviewed records of UK citizens (about 84,000 in total) to look for any links between social media usage and self-reports of well being and life satisfaction. Among the data set, researchers focused particularly on longitudinal data of 17,000 people between the ages of 10 and 21.
The team found some interesting results. They noted that key ages in adolescence seemed to have a higher correlation between social media use and reduced life satisfaction 12 months later: 11 to 13 for boys and 14 to 15 for girls. The team also noted that people with lower reported life satisfaction used more social media 12 months later. There was also a similar shift in well being around the age of 19.
Researchers speculate these specific periods may correlate to key developmental periods or to key life events (e.g., moving out), though more research is needed to confirm.
While it’s challenging to identify the exact ways in which social media and the brain interact, or whether there’s even a connection between social media and wellbeing, it’s clear that there are times in teenage years where we are more vulnerable.