The amount of time that teenagers spend on various social media platforms is not responsible for driving them towards depression, contends a recently published study. The researchers discovered that the relationship between social media addiction and depression in teens worked in the opposite direction. Teenage girls battling depression were seen to spend more time on social media to seek respite from the debilitating mental health condition. The study was published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science in January 2019.
The various studies that were carried out earlier, only looked at one particular aspect of depression in teens and social media usage by taking a single survey snapshot. However, this survey snapshot, according to Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center in Santa Barbara, California, could not properly assess which factors influenced depression in adolescents.
How is the current study different than the earlier ones?
The current study, on the other hand, observed teenagers closely and tried to make sense of their behaviors over time. According to Rutledge, one cannot deny the fact that social media can have a lot of benefits and there are all sorts of ways to use it.
The study began in 2017 and surveyed around 600 sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students in Ontario, once a year for a period of two years. Starting in 2010, they also carried out annual surveys of more than 1,100 college students for a period of six years.
What did the study reveal?
For the purpose of this study, the researchers created a standard questionnaire to measure the symptoms of depression in a selected group of students. They asked the participant students to estimate the average time they spent on social media on weekdays and during weekends. They also asked the students to estimate their regular screen time and the time that they invested on other non-screen activities such as exercise, homework, etc.
After collecting the data, the researchers closely looked at each participant’s response over time, in order to make a note of how their depressive symptoms or social media usage changed from one year to another. Based on their observations, the researchers found that social media usage did not predict the development of depressive symptoms among these college or school students. In fact, the teenage school girls displaying greater symptoms of depression, apparently used social media more rampantly over time. However, they did not find the same kind of association with social media in the case of teenage boys or college students.
What do experts have to say?
Speaking about this particular observation made by the researchers, John Piacentini, director of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Center for Child Anxiety Resilience Education and Support, said that the findings and methodology used in this study were definitely more sophisticated than the prior reports. He also felt that this study was a meaningful contribution as it clarified various presented reflections on this question in a significant way.
Adding further, Rutledge said that it may be that girls suffering from depression tended to seek solace on various social media platforms such as Instagram or Snapchat. According to her, if the offline life of these teenage girls was not pleasant, they would often feel marginalized at school. So when these girls went online, they felt good, as they were now perceived as a valued member of the community. These girls probably used social media more in order to connect with people, which if they did not, would make them feel even more isolated in life.
Moderation is important
Dr. Paul Weigle, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Mansfield Center, Connecticut, said that children would probably use social media differently based on their individual characteristics. Thus he felt that researchers needed to take a closer look at groups and what made them different in their experiences with social media. For instance, teens battling anxiety or depression may prefer socializing online, as it was easier to control interactions there.
Having said that, he added that however, moderation in the usage of social media was certainly important, just as it was in all other things. According to Weigle, a lot of depressed adolescents tended to use social media or any other types of screen media as a way to escape from their real world issues. When they developed this tendency, the real world problems increased instead of decreasing.
To address this issue, Rutledge suggested that parents must openly talk with their kids about social media usage and how they felt about it, instead of merely assuming that social media is causing their daughter or son to feel depressed. She further added that what happened very often was that since parents were so negative about social media, kids refrained from openly discussing it with them, as they feared that it would be taken away from them. Hence, as parents, it is important to figure out and understand what is going on with the kids and how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.
Social media addiction is treatable
Since the recent study clarified that there is no direct connection between social media addiction and depression in teens, parents need not panic. In fact, if they do observe their teen spending a considerable amount of time on these platforms, it is possible that they are afflicted with other mental health disorders like depression. Additionally, they need to understand that social media addiction, like any other illness, is certainly treatable with timely intervention. The most important thing is to detect and treat this addiction and its underlying root cause at the earliest possible.
ADEONA Healthcare of Rancho San Diego, the leading renowned mental health care provider for adolescents and teens aged 12-17, offers evidence-based treatment approaches for social media addiction and depression in teens. To know more about our social media addiction treatment center, call our 24/7 helpline (888) 997-3966 and speak to a representative. You can also chat online to get more information about other behavioral and mental health problems and treatments offered. We offer a comprehensive treatment plan that would address the addiction as well the reason leading to it, ensuring lasting recovery.