27 Jul Social Media Harms Boys and Girls at Different Ages
Social media may affect the wellbeing of boys and girls at different ages, according to research from Oxford University that describes what the researchers have dubbed ‘windows of vulnerability’ to social media harms.
Girls may experience harms younger than boys
The research team found that girls who increased their time on social media between the ages of 11 and 13 were less satisfied with their lives one year later. The same effect was found in boys but at the slightly later age of 14 to 15 years old.
There was no other link between social media and wellbeing at other ages for both sexes, except at 19 years, when higher usage was again followed by a drop in life satisfaction.
Teen mental health and social media
Increasingly levels of teen mental health problems have prompted researchers all over the world to investigate whether there is a link with social media usage. In the UK, the number of children aged five to 16 with a suspected mental health problem rose by 50% between 2017 and 2021, suggesting about five children in every classroom are now affected, a substantial increase from one in nine affected in 2017.
‘Two way’ effect shown in research
Frequently discussions about social media harms and young people centre around which comes first – deteriorating mental health or social media use. The Oxford University research showed that the impact is in fact two way;
At 11-13 years old for girls and 14-15 for boys, social media use was linked to a drop in life satisfaction a year on, while low life satisfaction was also linked to greater social media use the year after.
Tips for parents
- Hold off giving a social media-enabled smartphone to young teens for as long as you can.
- Discuss social media harms, comparison culture and how social media might make them feel.
- Keep and eye on escalating use and keep the lines of communication open.
- Check in frequently with how they are feeling, especially during the vulnerable age windows highlighted in the research.
For more about how to deal with social media harms, and how get a healthy balance with the digital world: My Brain Has Too Many Tabs Open is out now