Study finds link between depression and social media use among teens

A new report out of the United Kingdom shows a link between social media usage and depression among teens.

The study included data from nearly 11,000 14-year old's who were born over a three -year period.

It found that teen girls who use social media more than five hours daily were 50% more likely to show depressive symptoms than their counterparts who only used it one to three hours a day. While the difference in teen boys was not as marked, those who used it five-plus hours were 35% more likely to show those symptoms.

"We talk a lot about building self-worth in something other than what they see on their phone or their computer. Recognizing that friendships develop in real-life, not just through Snapchat or through Instagram. Thinking about how they can determine their self-image outside whether or not their pictures get liked a lot," said Amy Otterson, a therapist in Raleigh.

Otterson has seen an uptick in concerns from patients - both teen and adults - driven by social media.

"Yes, it's a great medium. You can communicate. You can connect, you can share photos, you can talk to each other all the time. But it's not the end-all, be-all, so there are other avenues like actually getting together face-to-face," Otterson explained.

While the study did show a link between depression and social media, it did not state that social media causes depression.

Dr. Gary Maslow, a child psychiatrist with Duke Health, believes more research is needed in this field. Despite that, he notes there are problems that can be addressed.

"If you're using more than two or three hours, you're not doing things with people in the world, so that's going to be isolating. The second thing is that using social media at night with the light, that's going to mess with your sleep," said Dr. Maslow.

Michelle Nowlin, a mother of three girls, said the study lends credence to her parenting philosophy.

"The only thing she asked for for Christmas was Instagram... and Santa did not deliver," said Nowlin, as she discussed her 12-year old's request.

Her two older children, ages 18 and 19, are both active on social media. Nowlin and her husband try to enforce boundaries to keep their children well-rounded.

"We think it's really important for kids to run around outside as much as possible. We really like them to engage with one another and their friends face-to-face," Nowlin explained.

Experts said parents should engage their children in conversations about social media, and suggest placing time limits of when they can use it.

"I think that social media has exacerbated a problem that we've had in larger media for a long time when it comes to what we show young girls as attractive or desirable, in their bodies, in their personalities," said Whitney Tucker, the Research Director at NC Child, a statewide advocacy organization.

The organization works with lawmakers on a variety of child-focused safety issues, from e-cigarettes to suicide prevention.

Tucker said she was not surprised by the reports findings, and noted North Carolina has seen an uptick in teen suicide over the past decade.

"Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among children 10-17 in North Carolina, and I don't think a lot of people know that. And I do think that social media could have a lot to do with that because it really amplifies the feelings that kids might have, or the responses from others that may be negative that they may be hearing," Tucker explained.

Tucker suggested parents should be aware of what apps their children are using to gain a better understanding.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released a social media plan to help families establish guidelines.
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