Young people & social media: one hour per day is enough

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Understanding Society has been used to inform a new youth study into the impacts of social media and computer gaming on mental health.

The research, led by Dr Cara Booker from the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, followed the lifestyles and emotional wellbeing of around 5000 young people aged 10-15 who are regularly interviewed alongside their families as part of the Understanding Society survey.

By asking how young people spend their time out of school, the researchers were able to analyse their happiness levels to see how growing trends of spending more time online or in front of a screen might be affecting wellbeing and happiness levels.

What did the report say?

The study, Media Use, Sports Participation and Well-being in Adolescence: Cross-Sectional Findings from the UK Household Longitudinal Study found that:

  • 63% of young people are using social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and current favourite Snapchat, for at least an hour every day
  • Young people who chatted on social websites between 1 and 3 hours were about 40% less likely to be happy as those who chatted for less than an hour a day
  • Young people who were on social media or computer games for more than 4 hours a day were more than twice as likely to have socio-emotional difficulties than those who spent less than an hour a day on them.

Dr Booker said:

“More than half of UK youngsters are using social media for at least an hour a day – and it seems a little can be a good thing and our study shows this interaction can help happiness levels – but when they overdo it then the risks of depression and other emotional difficulties increase dramatically.

We can see the same problems with those young people who are spending lots of time playing computer games or watching television. The best way to keep a healthy mind and body is get active – our study found that young people who played sport or exercised had the highest happiness and well-being levels of all.

This research should be very useful to policy makers looking at increasing the nation’s health and to parents and young people who want to make the right choices now for the sake of both their mental and physical health in the future.”

Related links

Media coverage of similar research using Understanding Society includes:

Media Use, Sports Participation and Well-being in Adolescence: Cross-Sectional Findings from the UK Household Longitudinal Study: By Cara Booker, Alexandra Skew, Yvonne Kelly and Amanda Sacker is published in the American Journal of Public Health (April 2014)

this news has been re-posted from the Understanding Society website