Does Social Media Really Harm Teenagers Mental Health?

It seems like the noise surrounding social media and the impact it can have on the mental health of teenagers has reached a fever pitch. Major figures like the US Surgeon General have spoken out about its ill effects, and most parents fully believe that allowing their children to use social media will make their mental health harder to maintain than might have been the case otherwise.

In spite of the fact that this is the case, there is a glaring lack of evidence that this is actually the truth of affairs. With all of that having been said and now out of the way, it is important to note that there isn’t even a consensus on what counts as social media, let alone on the effects it can have on children’s brain chemistry and emotional wellbeing.

Many studies take a look at platforms that feature user generated content as examples of social media, yet they fail to analyze major sites like YouTube. The video streaming platform is used by 95% of teenagers, as per Pew, and about 20% stated that they use it constantly with all things having been considered and taken into account.

However, despite its popularity and its clear status as a social media, YouTube is nowhere to be seen in these reports. The inclusion of YouTube may alter the findings because of the fact that this is the sort of thing that could potentially end up only being used passively. Alternatively, its impact may be similar to that of TikTok, but the lack of studies including it suggests that they are not covering as many sites as they need to.

It bears mentioning that correlation does not imply causation. Most studies have discovered correlations, but a causal link has yet to be established. Until and unless the studies are modified to cover a wider range of social media behaviors, their findings will not be robust enough to drive policy decisions. The presence of conflicting information also casts some doubts on these theories, which has led many study reviewers to call the evidence weak at best and that should be considered by parents when they are restricting social media usage for teens.

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