Obsession with social media fuels anxiety in teenage girls

A study published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health suggests that obsessive social media usage is casing teen age girl to exhibit high levels of stress and anxiety.  Yet the anxiety of boys does not demonstrate a similar relationship with their social media usage.

The study of nearly 10,000 British schoolchildren aged 13-16 found that girls who checked social media multiple times a day had a 38 per cent greater risk of suffering psychological distress; it recommends that parents encourage teenagers to leave their phones downstairs when they go to bed and to get plenty of physical exercise.

The causes seem to be related both to the exposure to anxiety inducing content such as comparisons or exposure  to cyberbullying – even if it is to others – and that the time spent on social media reduces the time spent on more positive or support activities including sleeping.

The Times quoted Russell Viner, the lead researcher from the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health: “Our results suggest that social media itself doesn’t cause harm, but that frequent use may disrupt activities that have a positive impact on mental health such as sleeping and exercising, while increasing exposure of young people to harmful content, particularly the negative experience of cyberbullying.”

Dasha Nicholls from Imperial College London, who co-authored the report, adds: “The clear sex differences we discovered could simply be attributed to girls accessing social media more frequently than boys, or to the fact that girls had higher levels of anxiety to begin with. Cyberbullying may be more prevalent among girls, or it may be more closely associated with stress in girls than in boys.”

Now all this makes sense to me – from my own experience as a parent it seems that the use of social media by girls is much more tied up with their self-representation, self-image and self-worth; while teenage boys seems to communicate “superficial drivel” – a bit like the way that guys, in a new social situation, will chat about their car journey or football rather than their current hopes and worries.

Yet these result chime with the results shown in the UK Adult Psychiatric Morbidity shows that 26 % of young women, aged between 16 and 18, have a common mental health disorder (depression, generalised anxiety, phobias or obsessions etc) compared with only 9% of men.

Now it could be that young women face different challenges to young men or it could be that something in the way we bring girls up means that they develop less resilience than boys – but I think this report on the impacts of social media usage on the lives of young girls is real food for thought.

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