Does Social Media Make Teens Unhappy? It May Depend on Their Age.

Does Social Media Make Teens Unhappy?

However, research aimed at identifying a direct link between social media and well-being has not found much.

“There have been absolutely hundreds of such studies, and almost all of them showed fairly small effects,” said Jeff Hancock, a behavioral psychologist at Stanford University who conducted a meta-analysis of 226 such studies.

What’s remarkable about the new study, said Dr. Hancock, who was not involved in the work, is its scope. It included two surveys in the UK with 84,000 people taking part. One of these surveys surveyed over 17,000 teens aged 10 to 21, showing how their social media usage and life satisfaction ratings varied from year to year.

“It’s just fantastic in terms of scale,” Dr. Hancock said. He added that the rich age analysis is a significant improvement over previous studies, which tended to lump all teenagers into one group. “The teenage years are not like some kind of permanent period of life development – they bring rapid changes,” he said.

During early adolescence

The study found that during early adolescence, heavy social media use predicted lower life satisfaction ratings one year later. In girls, this sensitive period was between the ages of 11 and 13, while in boys, it was between 14 and 15 years. Dr. Orben said that this sex difference might simply be due to the fact that girls tend to reach puberty earlier than boys.
“We know that teenage girls develop earlier than boys,” says Dr. Orben. “There are many things that could be potential drivers, whether social, cognitive or biological.”

Both the boys and girls in the study experienced a second period of social media sensitivity around the age of 19. “It was pretty amazing because it was the same for all genders,” Dr. Orben said. Around this age, she says, many people go through major social upheavals, such as going to college, getting a new job, or living independently for the first time, which can change how they interact with social media.

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