Study Links Social Media Addiction to Anxiety in Teens

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A study published this month in Archives of Disease in Childhood aimed to measure the time teenage girls spend using their smartphones and social media. It also sought to go beyond just measuring duration by using a scale to measure possible social media addiction. The researchers wanted to estimate the associations between social media use, addiction, and overall well-being. They hypothesized that social media use and addiction would be linked to increased anxiety, tiredness, loneliness, and worse body image, health, and mood.

A Disturbing Trend in Growing Anxiety Amongst Teens

According to the study, anxiety and other mental health disorders are significant issues for teenagers in high-income countries. Since 2013, reports have shown a notable increase in anxiety, particularly among girls. These mental health problems are now a leading cause of absence from work among young adults in some countries. During the COVID-19 pandemic, anxiety rates among teenage girls continued to rise.

Over the past decade, the rapid growth of technology and social media has led to an increase in both the frequency and amount of time spent online. A study in the UK from 2013 to 2015 found that using social media more than three times a day was linked to later psychological distress. Another study from the USA between 2014 and 2016 found that more than three hours of social media use daily was associated with a higher risk of mental health problems one year later. By 2021, American teenagers were spending an average of 3.5 hours a day on social media, which has been connected to worsening mental health.

How Social Media Addiction Feeds Teen Anxiety

Anxiety related to social media use can be due to several factors, including addiction, the study reported. Social media addiction follows the same patterns as other behavioral addictions: time spent, craving, attempted control, withdrawal symptoms, and social problems. Estimates of social media addiction worldwide range from 5% to 31%.

How the Study Was Designed

The “School, Sport, and Social Media Study” (3S) is a population-based, prospective cohort study conducted in Helsinki, Finland. The study was developed with input from the Youth Research Advisory Board of the Helsinki University Hospital. After getting ethics approval, the researchers contacted 49 high schools in three large cities in Finland, and 21 schools chose to participate.

Participants were 15-16-year-old girls, who were given surveys to complete using RedCap, a secure online tool. They also provided screenshots of their smartphone usage. The study aimed to recruit 1,000 participants and successfully included 1,164 teenage girls.

Methodology for the Study

Participants reported their daily smartphone and social media use using Bergen Social Media Addiction Scale (BSMAS), Generalised Anxiety Disorder-7, and Body Appreciation Scale 2. The study measured positive body image and assessed general well-being with visual analogue scales for health, mood, tiredness, and loneliness.

Study Results

The study found that the average daily smartphone use among participants was nearly six hours, with about four hours spent on social media. Around 16.6% of the participants showed signs of social media addiction. Additionally, 37.2% scored above the threshold for potential anxiety disorder.

Higher daily time on social media was linked to lower GPA, higher anxiety, poorer body image, and lower overall well-being. Social media addiction scores were associated with higher anxiety, poorer body image, and greater tiredness and loneliness.

What the Researchers Concluded

The study highlights the serious implications of nearly six hours of daily smartphone use among teenage girls. The findings suggest a strong association between social media use, addiction, and negative mental health outcomes. While some advocate for increased mental health services, addressing the root causes, such as excessive social media use, is crucial. Policymakers, educators, and caregivers need to work together to create a balanced approach to social media use, ensuring the well-being of young people.

Social Media Addiction Lawsuits

Social media addiction lawsuits claim that social media platforms are designed to keep users, especially teenagers, engaged for long periods, which can lead to addictive behaviors. The plaintiffs argue that the companies behind these platforms knew about these risks but did not warn the public about the potential harm to minors.

On October 6, 2022, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) decided to bring together all the social media addiction personal injury lawsuits and handle them in the Northern District of California. This decision aims to manage these cases fairly and efficiently.

Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, an experienced judge with similar cases already pending, is overseeing oversee this complex litigation. As of May 1, 2024, 455 lawsuits are pending in this MDL.