Teenagers are hooked to social media sites most of the day. The time they invest in social networking sites has gone up to 62.5 per cent after 2012 and is still expanding, according to scientists. Last year, teenagers spent an average of 2.6 hours per day on social media.
While there are suspicions that screen time is shooting up depression and anxiety among teenagers, there are some contrarian theories released by Sarah Coyne, a professor of family life at Brigham Young University. She concludes that merely by spending more time on social media, teenagers do not increase their anxiety or depression.
"We spent eight years trying to really understand the relationship between time spent on social media and depression for developing teenagers," Coyne explains in a 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."
As it is a multi-process syndrome, one stressor does not enhance the root cause of either depression or anxiety. What stresses teenagers out is not just copious amounts of time they spend on social media sites.
"It's not just the amount of time that is important for most kids. 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," Coyne says.
The study aims to enable society to target not just the screen time debate, but also the context and content that is associated with leveraging social media.
Her experiment involved 500 youth aged between 13 and 20, who completed annual questionnaires over eight years. The participants were asked to reveal how much time they spent on social networking sites every day and what was their level of depression and anxiety. All the participants answered the questions with different scales to exhibit any depressive symptoms and anxiety levels. Analysing the results at an individual level to check for correlations between the two variables was interesting.
At age 13, adolescents reported that they spent about 31 to 60 minutes every day on social media. The average kept going up so that by the time they touched young adulthood, they were spending almost two hours per day on social media. However, the shoot-up in social networking, though, did not lead to changes in mental health, or in anxiety or depression levels after a year.
How can social media be used in healthy ways? Coyne has three suggestions.
Firstly, she says that you need to be active, not a passive user. Go beyond only scrolling and you can actively comment, post and like other content to be a healthy user. Secondly, it is important to stop using social media for at least one hour before you fall asleep. By getting enough sleep, you are protecting your mental health in a major way. Thirdly, improve your intentionality. Examine what motivates you to get involved in social media in the first place.
"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," Coyne says.