Is social media really making us sad and stupid?

Does social media make people feel lonelier? Or do lonely people spend more time on social media?

How about decision-making ability? Does social media erode it - or are poor decision-makers simply more attracted to social media?

Then there’s depression, anxiety and FOMO (fear of missing out). They’ve all been linked to heavy social media use too. But the question whether social media engagement causes such problems or simply attracts users who already have them …? #itscomplicated.

Reliable findings?

Research in this area is plagued with difficulties, and that’s made reliable findings rare.

Many studies put participants in unrealistic situations that may or may not have any bearing at all on real life. Others involve experiments lasting as little as an hour, or rely exclusively on self-report data (i.e., written surveys that ask people to describe their behaviour as opposed to experimental situations where researchers objectively observe people’s behaviour).

An article that appeared in The Australian earlier this month under the headline “Social media can harm your choices” is a good case in point. The article begins “Excessive use of social media may impair your decision-making capabilities in much the same way as drug, alcohol and gambling addictions.”

It cites a recent study that tested the ability of young adults to make good decisions “in a card game scenario” relative to their dependence on Facebook. The study found that poor decision-making on the card game task was linked to heavy Facebook use.

But that word “linked” is the tricky bit.

Chicken/egg problems

Did subjects’ social media use “cause” or lead to poor decision-making - or were poor decision makers more likely to be heavy Facebook users? The finding that two variables are linked, in other words, doesn’t establish anything about a cause-and-effect relationship, either its direction (what has caused what?) or its  existence (IQ has linked to postcode, but real estate neither determines intelligence nor intelligence real estate - and that's quite aside from the question of whether IQ measures intelligence at all!).

What about wellbeing?

A more rigorous study by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, however, has recently claimed to be the first to demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship between decreased wellbeing and Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram use.  

Researchers collected a week’s worth of usage data directly from 143 university students’ phones to determine baseline social-media habits.  Over the next three weeks, they were then randomly assigned to one of two groups: a control group who maintained their usual social media habits, and an experimental group who were limited to 10 minutes per platform per day.

Researchers then looked at seven wellbeing measures - including fear of missing out, anxiety, depression and loneliness.

Their findings? Using less social media than normal did lead to “significant” decreases in both loneliness and depression. Interestingly, the effects were strongest for students who were depressed at the outset of the study.

The big question is “why?” Experts speculate that the answer probably has to do with social comparison. As one researcher put it, “When you look at other people’s lives, particularly on Instagram, it’s easy to conclude that everyone else’s life is cooler or better than yours.”

giphy-1

Reducing time on social media reduces opportunities for social comparison - and frees up more time for activities that actually increase wellbeing.

Does that necessarily mean social media will make you, or your child, feel more depressed and lonely? It most emphatically does not.

Even the best experiment is limited in scope and what researchers call “generalisability” - i.e., just because a small sample American college students reacted this way doesn’t mean you will too.

Then again, it doesn’t mean you won’t. See? I told you it was #complicated.

That said, no research anywhere has found that kids who spend more time on social media are smarter or happier. Let Family Zone can help you manage social media free for one month, and see what YOU find.
Sign me up!

Topics: Parental Controls, teen safety, instagram, Social Media, teens on social media

Try Family Zone for FREE

Sign up now to try Family Zone for 1 month, totally free of charge.

Free Trial
Subscribe to our newsletter
Follow us on social media
Popular posts
Parental Controls | Cyber Safety | Cyber Experts | parenting | roblox
Roblox: What parents must know about this dangerous game for kids
Parental Controls | Screen time | youtube | smartphones | WhatsApp | suicide | self-harm | momo
MOMO unmasked
Parental Controls | Screen time | musical.ly | online predators | tiktok
It's the world's most popular app. And you've probably never heard of it.
Parental Controls | Pornography | Cyber Safety | Social Media | parenting | digital parenting
Pornstar to parents: shame on you!
Parental Controls | Cyber Safety | Cyber Experts | parenting | vpn
VPN apps: what are they and why are teens now using them?
Parental Controls | Mobile Apps | Cyber Safety | instagram
30 seconds: the time it takes to find porn on Instagram

Recent posts

 
Do you have a smart TV? Here's how to keep it safe

Maybe you saw the news reports this week about the teen whose devices were taken away - and used the family’s smart fridge to tweet to her ...

 
"DeepNude" is just the beginning: How deepfakes will change everything

Things come and go so quickly in the online world, so you may have missed the recent news about a controversial app called DeepNude - the ...

 
Mean girls on social media: The worst thing - and the best - parents can do to help

It’s a fact. Your daughter is being bullied more often than your son is. So what can you do about it?

 
Where is the instruction book?! Talking to my teen about digital risks

Recently my 15-year-old son asked me what I thought was a simple question: “Can I stay with some mates for the weekend out in the country?”