Selena Gomez's bold choice highlights impact of social media on girls
Social media is now a constant in our lives and as Selena Gomez can attest, it can affect the way we see ourselves and our place in the world.
The actor and singer recently told Good Morning America that she stopped looking at social media and the internet four and a half years ago for the sake of her mental health.
"It has changed my life completely. I am happier. I am more present, I connect more with people. It makes me feel normal," she said.
Social media's effect on wellbeing under the microscope
You don't have to be as famous as Gomez to experience similar effects of social media, with young people being particularly vulnerable.
With children accessing social media platforms more than ever before, researchers have revealed insights into its effects on the mental health of adolescents. Specifically, they’ve found that social media may affect girls earlier in life than boys.
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Over the last decade, social media has shifted the ways in which people are spending their time, and how they communicate with others.
A 2021 report by eSafety.gov.au found that Aussie teens used an average of four different social media services, with the top four platforms being:
YouTube - 72 per cent
Instagram - 57 per cent
Facebook - 52 per cent
Snapchat - 45 per cent
Combine this with increasing rates of mental health problems amongst our young people, it makes sense to explore whether social media has played a part.
Because adolescence is a time of key physical and psychological developmental milestones, psychologists are keen to understand how increased social media use may affect essential developmental steps such as self-esteem, emotional regulation, communication skills and more.
Social media affects life satisfaction earlier for girls
The findings, published in Nature Communications, are based on longitudinal analyses of over 17,000 participants between the ages of 10 and 21.
“We find there are certain ages, which differ between the sexes, when social media more substantially predicts life satisfaction,” says Dr Amy Orben, an experimental psychologist and first author on the study at the University of Cambridge.
Specifically, the research found that girls who increased their time spent on social media between the ages of 11 and 13 were less satisfied with their lives one year later, whereas this decline in life satisfaction wasn’t seen in boys until they reached 14 to 15 years of age.
The other age point where increased social media use predicted lower satisfaction in life, was 19, and this was the same for all genders.
Researchers explain that at 19 it’s possible other social changes, such as leaving home and starting work may increase vulnerability, and that these findings will require further research.
More to learn about the impact of social media
While the study doesn’t prove that social media harms wellbeing directly, the researchers found there may be "windows of vulnerability", which occur at different times for girls and boys.
According to Dr Orben, “the link between social media use and mental wellbeing is clearly very complex. Changes within our bodies, such as brain development and puberty, and in our social circumstances appear to make us vulnerable at particular times of our lives.
“With our findings, rather than debating whether or not the link exists, we can now focus on the periods of our adolescence where we now know we might be most at risk and use this as a springboard to explore some of the really interesting questions.”
The study has recommended further research be done to account for other circumstances at play in young people’s lives, and to narrow down just how closely linked increased social media use is to lower life enjoyment and other mental health challenges.
Mental health support for yourself or a loved one can be found by calling Lifeline on 13 11 14, Mensline on 1300 789 978, or the Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800. Online support is available via Beyond Blue.
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