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Teens, tech and mental health

Teens, tech and mental health: Oxford study finds no link!

There remains “little association” between technology use and mental-health problems, a study of more than 430,000 10 to 15-year-olds suggests.

The Oxford Internet Institute compared TV viewing, social-media and device use with feelings of depression, suicidal tendencies and behavioural problems.

It found a small drop in association between depression and social-media use and TV viewing, from 1991 to 2019,

There was a small rise in that between emotional issues and social-media use.

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Happy people

“We couldn’t tell the difference between social-media impact and mental health in 2010 and 2019,” study co-author Prof Andrew Przybylski. said.

“We’re not saying that fewer happy people use more social media.

“We’re saying that the connection is not getting stronger.”

And this was a warning to regulators and lawmakers focusing on commonly held beliefs about the harmful effects of technology on young people’s mental health.

‘Negative well-being’

Participants, in the US and UK, graded their own feelings using set questions with sliding scale responses. And they were asked about the duration of social-media or device activity but not more specifically how they had spent that time. The paper is published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.

In January 2021, a study suggested heavy social-media use was linked to negative well-being and self-esteem among teenagers. Other factors affecting young people’s mental health include the coronavirus pandemic. And the UK government has announced a £۵۰۰m investment in mental-health services, with £۷۹m earmarked for children and young people.

Evaluating whether fears about the impacts of social media have merit requires prospective longitudinal studies that allow researchers to examine whether it is social media use that predicts depressive symptoms (rather than the other way around), while controlling for other potential influences. As Heffer and colleagues note, individual differences in personality, motivation, and current well-being are likely to play a critical role in the relationship between media use and future well-being.

Beginning in 2017, Heffer and coauthors surveyed 6th, 7th, and 8th graders in Ontario, Canada once a year for two years. The researchers also conducted annual surveys of undergraduate participants, beginning in their first year of university over a span of 6 years.

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To measure depressive symptoms, the researchers used the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale for the young adults and an age-appropriate version of the same scale for the adolescents. All participants answered two questions about their average daily hours spent on social media – one measuring weekday use and the other measuring weekend use. The participants also answered questions about other screen time, such as watching TV, and non-screen activities including doing homework and exercising.

Heffer and colleagues analyzed the data separately for each age group and gender.

The results showed that social media use did not predict later depressive symptoms among adolescents or college undergraduates. Rather, greater depressive symptoms predicted more social media use over time, but only among adolescent girls.

“This finding contrasts with the idea that people who use a lot of social media become more depressed over time. Instead, adolescent girls who are feeling down may turn to social media to try and make themselves feel better,” says Heffer.

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