Heavy social media use linked to higher psychological distress, particularly for younger teens


Ottawa, Ontario — Thursday September 14, 2023

A new CHEO Research Institute study links heavy social media use to increased psychological distress among adolescents, with younger adolescents being the most vulnerable.  

Findings from the recent study published in Frontiers of Public Health showed that 48% of adolescents used social media for three hours or more per day, and 43.7% had moderate to severe psychological distress, which was more prevalent among females (54%) than males (31%). These findings underscore the importance of promoting responsible social media use and providing support to adolescents, especially during critical developmental stages.  

“These findings emphasize the risks of excessive social media use among adolescents, particularly among younger age groups. Targeted interventions, such as limiting screen time, and developing meaningful alternative, in-person social and health-promoting activities are needed to address these risks,” said Dr. Gary Goldfield, Senior Scientist at the CHEO Research and professor of pediatrics at the University of Ottawa. “Educators, parents, and mental health professionals play a crucial role in fostering healthy online behaviors and cultivating positive offline connections.” 

Based on data from the 2019 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey, the study involved 6,822 middle and high school students in Ontario, Canada. Heavy social media use, defined as more than three hours a day, was associated with an increase in the odds of severe psychological distress. Age was a significant moderating factor, with younger adolescents exhibiting a stronger association between social media use and psychological distress. 

While gender and parental support did not significantly affect the relationship, the study highlights the vulnerability of younger adolescents to the negative effects of heavy social media use on mental well-being. 

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