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Does Social Media Make Teens Unhappy? It May Depend on Their Age

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Responses from people of all ages in Britain found two distinct periods of adolescence when heavy use of social media spurred gloomy feelings: first around puberty, and again around age 19.

Credit: Pictures Ltd./Corbis/Getty Images

Over the past few years, as the cold glow of a smartphone has followed more and more adolescents from bedroom to school and back again, parents have fretted over the technology's influence. And no wonder, with Facebook researchers covertly studying how its apps erode girls' body image, doctors describing TikTok-induced tic disorders, and prosecutors and lawmakers pledging to hold social media companies responsible for harming children.

But in the background, a quieter scientific discussion has questioned whether social media is doing much harm at all. While a few researchers have claimed that digital technology is a powerful, causal factor in the rising rates of mental health problems, others have countered that the risk of harm for most teenagers is tiny — about the equivalent influence on well-being as wearing eyeglasses or regularly eating potatoes, one group calculated.

Now, the authors of the eyeglass paper have published a large, multiyear study providing what independent experts said was an unusually granular and rigorous look at the relationship between social media and adolescents' feelings about life.

From The New York Times
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