The project aims to explore how teenagers use social media and how these different types of social media use are related to their mental health. The project also aims to examine the relationship between teenage social media use and feelings of connectedness to family, school and peers. Rates of self-harm, anxiety and depression in teenagers have risen over the past decade, particularly in girls. The corresponding explosion in social media use over the same time frame has led to speculation as to how the two may be related. There have been called for more longitudinal and qualitative evidence in the area, as well as more nuanced research on social media use beyond screen-time, depression and well-being.
The project involves a two-wave cohort survey* of 13-14-year-olds across 20 schools in south west England. Baseline data were collected in October 2019, with a follow up survey due to take place 12 months later. This will allow us to see whether types of social media use (based on use of social media for different activities) change during this time, and whether type of social media use at age 13/14 predicts mental health (self-harm, anxiety, depression and well-being) and social connectedness (family, school and peers) at age 14/15, or vice versa. *In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, an additional intermediate wave was conducted in May 2020 to explore how the teenagers were coping during lockdown.
The other strand to the project is a qualitative study involving interviews with 24 13-14-year-olds. Thematic analysis of these interviews will be compared against the quantitative findings to give a more rounded understanding of social media use and teenage mental health.
Teenagers have been involved at each step of the project to date, helping to shape the topics covered and question wordings in the survey through group and individual discussions (discussions with LGBTQ+ teenagers informed the wording of questions on gender and sexual orientation). A pilot survey was conducted with Year 9 classes in four schools, with in-person feedback from teachers and students as to what worked well and how the survey could be improved. A workshop with teenagers helped with designing the topic guide for interviews and ice-breaker activities to stimulate conversation. Initial findings have and will continue to be discussed with teenagers to sense-check our interpretation of the results and explore how best the findings could be communicated to this age group. Teachers will also be consulted as to how best the overall findings could be communicated to schools, students and parents.
In the news
Winstone, L., Mars, B., Haworth, C.M.A. et al. Social media use and social connectedness among adolescents in the United Kingdom: a qualitative exploration of displacement and stimulation. BMC Public Health 21, 1736 (2021).
Widnall, E., Winstone, L., Mars, B., Haworth, C.M.A., & Kidger, J. Young People’s Mental Health during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Initial findings from a secondary school survey study in South West England, 24th August 2020, NIHR School for Public Health Research.
Barthorpe, A., Winstone, L., Mars, B., & Moran, P. (2020). Is social media screen time really associated with poor adolescent mental health? A Time Use Diary Study. Journal of Affective Disorders.
Mars, B., Gunnell, D., Biddle, L., Kidger, J., Moran, P., Winstone, L., & Heron, J. (2020). Prospective associations between internet use and poor mental health: A population-based study. PLoS one, 15(7), e0235889.
Padmanathan, P., Bould, H., Winstone, L., Moran, P., & Gunnell, D. (2020). Social media use, economic recession and income inequality in relation to trends in youth suicide in high-income countries: a time trends analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders.