Depression linked to social media is almost twice as high among teenage girls compared to boys, according to research by University College London.
Researchers found the greater amount of time girls spend on social media at age 14, as well as exposure to online bullying and lack of sleep, were key factors in their mood.The research suggests that 14-year-old girls were heavier users of social media, with two-fifths using it for more than three hours a day, compared to one-fifth of boys.
The findings come as new official guidance from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health suggests parents should avoid letting their children use mobile phones, tablets or computers an hour before bedtime and agree screen time limits.
Girls were also more likely to have experience of online harassment or cyber bullying and get less quality sleep because of extra time spent online.
Both factors can trigger depressive symptoms, the researchers said.
The study suggests that 40% of girls had experienced online harassment or bullying compared to 25% of boys, while 40% of girls reported their sleep often being disrupted compared to 28% of boys.
‘These findings are highly relevant to current policy development on guidelines for the safe use of social media and calls on industry to more tightly regulate hours of social media use for young people,’ Professor Kelly said. ‘Clinical, educational and family settings are all potential points of contact where young people could be encouraged and supported to reflect not only on their social media use, but also other aspects of their lives including online experiences and their sleep patterns. At home, families may want to reflect on when and where it’s OK to be on social media and agree limits for time spent online. Curfews for use and the overnight removal of mobile devices from bedrooms might also be something to consider.’
Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society of Public Health, said more action was needed from government to understand the impact of social media.
Bob Jope HEALTHWATCH TORBAY
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