By the time they turn 14, young girls are twice as likely to show symptoms of depression than boys – and researchers are blaming social media.
The problem, according to a new study published in the journal EClinical Medicine, is that girls tend to use social media much more than their male counterparts.
“Greater social media use related to online harassment, poor sleep, low self-esteem and poor body image; in turn these related to higher depressive symptom scores,” the researchers wrote.
To see how sites and apps like Twitter and Snapchat affected young teens’ mental health, the team from University College London and University of Essex looked at data collected by the UK’s Millennium Cohort Study. That project involved collecting information from 10,904 14-year-olds.
The study found that 10 percent of boys reported that they don’t use social media, compared to just 4 percent of girls. About 40 percent of girls were on social media for more than three hours per day; only 20 percent of boys said the same.
Those differences put girls at more risk of online bullying, and tended to lead to more interrupted sleep, due to use of chat apps. Those issues, in turn, led to mental health challenges for female tweens and teens.
“The link between social media use and depressive symptoms was stronger for girls compared with boys,” Dr. Yvonne Kelly, the study’s lead author, told the Daily Mail. “For girls, greater daily hours of social media use corresponded to a stepwise increase in depressive symptoms. For boys, higher depressive symptom scores were seen among those reporting three or more hours of daily social media use.”
Rates of depression symptoms among heavy users were more than three times higher than light users.
The study follows on the heels of another report, released in October, that found unlimited screen time is linked to worse mental health in young people.
“Our findings highlight the potential pitfalls of lengthy social media use for young people’s mental health,” the research team wrote in their study. “Findings are highly relevant for the development of guidelines for the safe use of social media and calls on industry to more tightly regulate hours of social media use.”