Teenagers who display signs associated with online media addiction are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, a recent study has shown.
Research was conducted by experts from the University of Glasgow, who surveyed 467 students, aged 11 to 17, on the topic of their social networking habits, especially during nighttime.
The questionnaires were followed up by further tests which analyzed the respondents’ self-esteem levels, overall mental health, anxiety and depression symptoms and emotional attachment to social media.
Scientists also evaluated the participants’ quality of sleep, in order to determine if there was indeed a connection between investment in online networking and disruption of daily rhythms.
The study, whose findings were presented during the British Psychological Society annual conference, was led by Dr. Heather Cleland Woods and Holly Scott. Researchers discovered that respondents felt the need to be involved in social networking throughout the entire day, even at times when they should have been resting.
Moreover, teenagers displayed anxiety at the thought of not being able to reply immediately to comments or messages. Some of them were so involved in this online interaction that they would use multiple devices simultaneously, and stay awake until just before dawn to keep themselves updated with every newsfeed post.
As a result, their sleeping patterns were severely affected, and their psychological wellbeing was also perturbed.
Overall, researchers concluded that an excessive amount of time spent on social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr can lead to a heightened risk of depression and self-esteem issues among teenagers.
This is particularly true for nighttime users, who experience what could be qualified as separation anxiety, at the thought of not being available on a 24/7 basis on these social platforms. Their exaggerated emotional involvement in networking with their peers can have severe repercussions on their mental health.
Experts speculate that displaying such a strong engagement in the virtual world may be caused by the youngsters’ increased vulnerability to addictive behaviors, as a result of their tender age.
Another recent study, carried out as part of the National Citizen’s Service youth program, also supported this theory by pointing out the fact that young girls usually resort to social networking websites as a means of distraction when they feel anxious or distressed, instead of seeking their parents’ help.
More evidence was presented during the American Psychological Association Meeting in 2011, when social media use was associated with schizophenia and depression among teenagers.
In order to counter the effects of this modern-age addiction, Dr. Cleland Woods has suggested introducing a ’digital sunset’ scheme, which would cause smartphones and tablets to switch off automatically at night, just like the sun sets before our usual bedtime.
This could greatly improve sleeping patterns for young people, who are more susceptible to being engrossed in their gadgets, to the point of oblivion.
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