Social Media May Hurt Girls More Than Boys, New Study Finds

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I was a pretty happy kid in high school, but I can’t help but wonder if that would have been the case if I’d had an Instagram account. We now know there is indeed a direct causal link between depression and excessive social media usage. Now another new study suggests it might be affecting teen girls particularly badly.

According to the study published in the journal EClinicalMedicine based on data on 10,904 teens, 14-year-old girls who heavily used social media daily had more symptoms of depression than 14-year-old boys who used social media just as heavily. The girls who spent around five hours or more a day on social media experienced a 50 percent increase in depressive symptoms, while boys who spent the same amount of time on the platforms had a 35 percent rise. Girls who used between three and five hours a day saw a 26 percent bump in depressive symptoms; for boys, the increase was 21 percent.

The depressive symptoms were measured by asking the 14-year-olds about their mental health and social media use. Social media was associated with more experiences of cyberbullying, less sleep, poorer self-esteem, and a more unhealthy body image, all of which were associated with increased symptoms of depression.

When questioned, 43 percent of girls said they used social media for more than three hours a day, in comparison with about 22 percent of boys. This might begin to explain the gender gap in terms of depression.

But it’s not just the frequency of platform use that elucidates the heightened depressive symptoms in girls. Yvonne Kelly, a professor of epidemiology and public health at University College London in the United Kingdom and one of the study authors, told CNN the types of things that girls and boys do online could also be a factor in the gap between depressive symptoms in males and females.

"Girls tend to more likely use things like Snapchat or Instagram, which is more based around physical appearance, taking photographs, and commenting on those photographs," she said. "I think it has to do with the nature of use."

Moreover, girls are also already at a higher risk for depression in general, regardless of social media usage: "Girls are, and have been for as long as measured, at a greater risk of depression than boys after puberty,” Dr. Anne Glowinski, a professor of child psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis, told CNN. "If being online more is one of those social factors that makes the emergence of depression more likely—as opposed to being online more representing already a symptom on the way to depression—than it does not surprise me that there are gender differences and that girls are more vulnerable.”

There are practical steps that both kids and adults can take in order to improve their overall mental health, namely by setting boundaries when it comes to social media.

“Turn off your phone one hour before bed and only turn it back on in the morning,” certified health coach and yoga teacher Erin Sears Basile tells mbg. This is crucial because proper sleep is so important in maintaining a balanced state of mind. Once you get used to breaking mindless scrolling habit before bed, she recommends trying to have three scheduled times a day allotted to checking social media—that’s it.

Sure, it’ll be an adjustment, but if these practices are started as young as 14-years-old, just imagine the positive mindset shifts that could take place.

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