*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on HealthDay.
Bingeing on social media isn’t good for any teen, but new research has pinpointed three ways in which hours spent on Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook may harm the mental health of young girls in particular.
“Almost all of the influence of social media on mental health could be explained by the three mechanisms examined — namely experiencing cyberbullying, sleeping for less than eight hours a night and reduced physical activity — all of which have known effects on mental health,” said researcher Dasha Nicholls, a reader in child psychiatry at Imperial College London.
“The influence of these mechanisms in boys was much less marked, however, and it is likely that other mechanisms are operating that we were unable to explore,” she added.
Girls use social media much more than boys, Nicholls explained, and girls may use social media differently than boys. They also are exposed to and react differently to the content they see, she noted.
“It’s important to keep a balance, so that social media does not displace other activities that are important for mental health,” Nicholls said.
For the study, Nicholls and her colleagues interviewed roughly 10,000 teens from almost 1,000 schools in England. Over three years, the researchers checked how much time teens spent on social media. They defined heavy use as using apps like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and WhatsApp three or more times a day.
Nicholls team found that in 2013, 43% of boys used social media throughout the day, compared with 51% of girls. In 2014, social media use had jumped to 51% of boys and 68% of girls. By 2015, 69% of boys and 75% of girls used social media multiple times a day.
Among girls, the more often they used social media, the more psychological distress they suffered, the findings suggested. In 2014, 28% of girls who used social media a lot reported psychological distress, compared with 20% of those who used it weekly or less. This effect was not as clear in boys, the study authors noted.
The findings were published online in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.