Social media 'has a small effect on your happiness'

Pokémon is Nintendo's second best selling franchise of video games behind Super Mario

Pokémon is Nintendo's second best selling franchise of video games behind Super Mario

Time spent on social media has only a "trivial" impact on life satisfaction among adolescents, say researchers.

Social media has little effect on teenagers' happiness according to a study which suggests parents have less to fear than previously thought on their children's use of modern technology.

The upshot, the team said, is that questions remained about whether increasing the amount of time a young person spends on social media would affect how they later feel about life. It concluded that lower life satisfaction led to an increase in activity while social media use led to lower life satisfaction but the trends were only "modest". These effects were more evident in females than males. "They are inconsistent, possibly contingent on gender, and vary substantively depending on how the data are analyzed". They called for the concept of "screen time" - curbs on phone use - to be abandoned after finding that only a tiny fraction of teenagers' change in life satisfaction could be explained by the length of time they spent online.

"Most effects are tiny", the report said.

He described screen time as "statistically noisy nonsense", adding: "On an individual basis, time shouldn't be the thing that parents are worrying about. Thinking about social media like it's a black box that has kind of a ticking clock on top of it - that way of thinking about screen time is nearly certainly wrong".

"Access is key to understanding the many roles that social media plays in the lives of young people" she said.

'We recommend families follow our guidance published this year and avoid screen use for one hour before bed'.

The study followed teen social media use from 2009 to 2016 as part of a long-term survey of United Kingdom households.

Instead, research should examine if particular aspects of online behaviour have negative impacts on mental health, such as looking at potentially harmful pages or posts. Those who had spent more time on social media had 2.2 times the risk of reporting eating and body image concerns, compared to their peers who spent less time on social media.

Prof Liz Twigg from Portsmouth University, who is now leading a large-scale study of the impact of social media on children, welcomed the study.

Przybylski stressed that a lot of the data necessary to do more nuanced analysis of how young people spend their time online hasn't been made available by the companies that profit from their habits.

The results show the effects of increasing social media use were wider-ranging in girls than boys, not only slightly reducing satisfaction with life, but also satisfaction with school life, school work, friends and family - although not appearance. "We really need to get more granular with this, because the conversation about time on social media, it's sucking all the air out of the room and it's stopping people from thinking critically".