Does Social Media Contribute to Teen Depression? It's Complicated

Its no secret that teen social media use has risen quite a bit in recent years.

According to the 2021 Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens:

  • Teens averaged 8 hours and 39 minutes a day of screen time outside the classroom a 17 percent increase from 2019.
  • Teens spent, on average, 87 minutes using social media each day.
  • 62 percent of teens said they used social media daily, but only 34 percent of teens said they enjoy using social media a lot.

Within the same rough timeframe, adolescent mental health has taken an alarming decline. In 2021, 44 percent of high schoolers reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, according to a nationally representative survey by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

This concern isnt limited to older teens, either. A review of 29 studies explored mental health during the pandemic in over 80,000 children and adolescents worldwide. One in four youths had depression symptoms, nearly double the global rate before the pandemic.

Without a doubt, feelings of depression can relate to grief, trauma, and any of the challenging circumstances teens find themselves grappling with. Still, with a recognized link between social media use and depression in adults, you might wonder whether your teens social media use might play some role in depression, or any other mental health symptoms they experience.

Does the internet offer a social lifeline? Or is it more of an anchor, weighing kids down? The answers more complicated than you might think.

Whats the connection?

Experts have long debated whether social media can harm or help adolescents mental health.

Research from 2019 suggests teens are more likely to have a depressed mood if they spend a lot of time and effort on their social media accounts. Filtered images and curated timelines can cut down teens self-esteem, making them feel ugly or boring compared to their peers. They may also encounter more harassment and cyberbullying.

On the other hand, evidence also suggests that social media can boost mental health. Teens who feel depressed might go online to reach out to friends experiencing similar issues, for instance. Some teens may even form digital support groups, offering sympathy and advice to peers also coping with depression symptoms.