Social Media 'May Harm Well-Being of Teenage Girls'

Peter Russell

March 22, 2018

Girls who spend a lot of time on social media at age 10 are more likely to encounter declining levels of well-being during adolescence than those who do not, say researchers.

A study in the journal BMC Public Health did not find a similar association with adolescent boys, perhaps reflecting their lighter use of social media.

Teenagers and Social Media

Teenagers are among the most enthusiastic users of social media. Researchers at the University of Essex and University College London set out to discover how social media interaction at the age of 10 affected well-being over the next 5 years.

They used data from 9,859 individuals aged 10 to 15 from the UK Household Longitudinal Study.

Their use of social media was assessed by whether they used online sites such as Bebo, Facebook and MySpace, and how many hours they spent chatting or interacting with friends through these websites on a normal school day.

Happiness Scores

Their well-being was measured by how happy they felt in 6 areas of their life: with friends, family, their appearance, school, school work, and life as a whole. Happiness levels were scored in a range from 6 to 42, with higher scores indicating higher levels of happiness.

Negative feelings about their life were assessed using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), which covers areas of life such as emotions, conduct and peer relationships.

Gender Differences

The researchers found that social media use increased as children got older but that girls used social media more than boys.

At the age of 13, half of the girls were interacting on social media for more than 1 hour per day, compared to only a third of boys. By the age of 15, 59% of girls and 46% of boys were chatting on social media 1 or more hours each day.

Well-being scores also differed by gender and age. Happiness scores decreased for girls from a high of 36.9 at the age of 10 to 33.3 at the age of 15. Among boys, happiness scores fell from 36.02 to 34.55.

Scores from the SDQ questionnaire dropped for boys and increased for girls, indicating that girls experienced more negative aspects of well-being. However, the researchers conclude that overall well-being decreased for both.

"The findings indicate that well-being at older ages among females is associated with how much they interacted on social media at age 10; this was not the case for males," the authors write.

The researchers speculate that the gender differences might be partially explained by higher social media use among girls, while boys are more likely to participate in gaming.

They conclude that, as today's teenagers are likely to continue to rely heavily on social media as they enter adulthood, it is "important to educate adolescents, specifically females, and their parents on the consequences of high levels of use at young ages on their future well-being, not just in later adolescence but in adulthood as well."

Under Pressure

Sarah Brennan, chief executive of YoungMinds, comments in an emailed statement: "Many of the teenage girls we work with tell us that they face a huge range of pressures.

"In particular, the rise of social media means they need to always be available, they may seek reassurance in the form of likes and shares, and they are faced with constant images of 'perfect' bodies or 'perfect' lives, making it hard not to compare themselves to others."


Gender differences in the associations between age trends of social media interaction and well-being among 10-15 year olds in the UK, Booker C et al, BMC Public Health



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