How Many Hours Of Social Media A Day Will Harm A Teenager's Mental Health? 

Contributing Health Writer By Gretchen Lidicker, M.S.
Contributing Health Writer
Gretchen earned her master’s degree in physiology with a focus on alternative medicine from Georgetown University. She is the author of “CBD Oil Everyday Secrets” and “Magnesium Everyday Secrets.”

Image by Lucas Ottone / Stocksy

For parents, social media can be an anxiety-provoking topic. Should it be avoided completely? Is a little bit OK? What are the real consequences for our kids' mental health? These questions aren't easy to answer, and the fact that the way we use technology changes so rapidly makes it an even more complicated matter.

Luckily, a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry brings us one step closer to figuring out just how much is too much.

The link between social media and poor mental health.

Conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, the study collected data from over 6,500 participants—who were anywhere from 13 to 17 years old—over three years. The data was collected through surveys, which asked participants how much time they spent on social media and included a mental health assessment that screened for internalizing and externalizing behaviors.

Externalizing behaviors are defined as aggressiveness, impulsivity, and control problems, and internalizing typically refers to anxiety, depression, and withdrawal. Both are widely considered indicators of mental health issues. 

How much social media is too much social media?

The results showed that using social media for any amount of time was associated with a greater risk of internalizing problems and symptoms of both internalizing and externalizing issues. Interestingly, though, the participants who spent at least three hours a day on social media had the greatest risk of reporting internalizing problems.

So is three the magic number for hours of social media use? There's still a lot more to learn about the complex relationship between mental health and social media, but it's helpful to have a number to work with. As Kira Riehm, MSc, one of the study's lead authors, explained, "Many existing studies have found a link between digital or social media use and adolescent health, but few look at this association across time." 

These results also suggest that the impact on social media is pretty quick to develop. "Our study shows that teens who report high levels of time spent on social media are more likely to report internalizing problems a year later," explained Riehm. It's important to note that this study doesn't prove that social media actually causes mental health problems, but as Riehm said, "We do think that less time on social media may be better for teens' health."

And it's not just teens who should be limiting their screen time, either. Here's proof that social media causes depression—plus some advice on how to set boundaries with your phone.

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