Oxford: Teens' life satisfaction has 'nothing to do' with how much they use social media

Just how much is social media use affecting children?

Photo credit: NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP / Getty Images
  • Study finds that children's use of social media has a trivial effect on them.
  • Satisfaction and happiness is not as connected to social media as originally thought.
  • Only girls reduced their use of social media when they felt discontented.

Social media is a scourge to some and a mere distraction for others. Much has been said about the negative consequences of unchecked social media use. It has even become common wisdom to want to limit your screen time and limit kids' time online. Yet, there seems to be some positive news that social media isn't doing that much harm to developing children and teenagers.

A new in-depth study by researchers at the University of Oxford attempted to answer whether teenagers and adolescents who use social media more than average are less happier in life — or if unhappiness encourages them to use social media more.

Results of the study

The study, which assessed trends between 2009 and 2017, was published on May 6 in the journal PNAS. During that time, researchers asked 12,000 10- to 15- year-olds about their social media use. They questioned how much time they spend during a normal school day and then rated how satisfied they were with other aspects of their life.

The researchers found that the effects of time spent on social media appeared to be more diverse and wide-ranging for girls rather than boys, but they remarked that these effects were tiny.

Professor Andy Przybylski, one of the coauthors of the research stated: "99.75 percent of a young person's life satisfaction across a year has nothing to do with whether they are using more or less social media".

Przybylski went on to say:

"It is entirely possible that there are other, specific, aspects of social media that are really not good for kids … or that there are some young people who are more or less vulnerable because of some background factor."

Social media and adolescents

Returning back to the statistical discrepancy between girls, the authors found that:

"There might be small reciprocal within-person effects in females, with increases in life satisfaction predicting slightly lower social media use, and increases in social media use predicting tenuous decreases in life satisfaction."

There was a consistency in girls being less satisfied about aspects of life in correlation to a slight reduction in social media use. Although, this might have meant that the girls were just better at reporting how they felt.

The relations linking social media use and life satisfaction are, therefore, more nuanced than previously assumed: They are inconsistent, possibly contingent on gender, and vary substantially depending on how the data are analyzed. Most effects are tiny — arguably trivial; where best statistical practices are followed, they are not statistically significant in more than half of models. That understood, some effects are worthy of further exploration and replication.

One of the teams' key takeaways was for parents to stop worrying about how long their kids were online in these mediums. Instead, learn how to talk to them about their experiences.

Researcher, Amy Orben stated:

"Just as things went awry offline, things will also go awry online, and it is really important for that communication channel to be open."

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