With the widespread penetration of smartphones in society and the fast reduction in the cost of internet services, there is a growing tendency among people to spend more time on social media. Naturally, this tendency is more prominent among adolescents. A recent study, which analysed the impact of social media consumption by adolescents, has revealed some interesting trends.
According to the research published at BMC Public Health, researchers at the University of Essex and University College London (UCL) explored the relationship between social media use and well-being among adolescents in the age group 10 to 15.
The research finds that the use of social media impacted the later well-being of both boys and girls compared to that of just boys, with ‘greater social media interaction at age 10 was associated with lower levels of well-being at later ages among females’.
Though the exact reasons behind this pattern are not clear yet, the reasons behind such an impact on girls can be predicted with reasonable confidence. In fact, these reasons are highly related to the psychology of girls.
As is well known, the development process kicks in early in girls compared to boys, with the development process beginning in girls usually by around 10. With the initiation of physical changes come the psychological changes as well.
The primary psychological change is that girls will become more curious about the world outside of her family and will try to reinvent herself in the context of the world setting. However, micro families in urban areas allow a limited opportunity for girls to interact with people outside her home, unless her family is a highly social one.
Under such constrained but desperate circumstances, social media provides an ideal opportunity for girls to mingle with the outside world, though virtually.
As the girls interact more with virtual persons, typical to the nature of girls, they form attachments. And eventually, they reduce their chances of exploring and learning from the real world when under different circumstances they would have. The problem here is that once the girls encounter a bad incident or breakup in the virtual world, they avoid the real world more and more, which only makes them feel lonelier or letdown. This hampers their development and well-being in later life.
But when it comes to boys, they usually get more opportunities to explore the real world, although their development process begins two to three years later than girls. By then, they might have had some relationships in the real world and possibly would have attained more maturity. This could possibly explain why social media has less of an impact on the well-being of tween boys.
As with anything in the real world, anytime individuals are socialising, there is an opportunity for growth and development, especially in patience. And social media is no different. Similar to how patience is the key to mastering any game like poker, there needs to be a more in-depth understanding of social media before one fully immerses into it.
Parents should make sure, not only that their children know enough about social media before they immerse themselves in it, but also that the children develop enough roots in the real world. The more a child is rooted in the real world, the less time they’ll spend on social media and be impacted by it.
Jason Smith did his degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. He has an ongoing interest in mental health and well-being.