Teenage girls who use social media suffer more emotional and social problems than boys, research suggests.
The happiness levels of nearly 10,000 girls and boys were tracked between the ages of 10 and 15. Girls who spent more than an hour a day on social media from the age of 10 were more likely to suffer problems.
However, boys appeared not to be affected in the same way, possibly because girls have a greater tendency to compare themselves to others and look at the number of “likes” they receive on Facebook and Instagram. Fear of cyber-bullying and disrupted sleep could also affect happiness levels, said the researchers.
They called for time limits on children’s use of social media and tobacco-style health warnings.
The study by the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) at Essex University and University College London (UCL) is among the first to show the social and emotional impact by sex of regular social media use.
Dr Cara Booker, of the ISER, said: “Young people need access to the internet for homework, for watching TV and to keep in touch with their friends, but a body of evidence is emerging to show that substantial amounts of time spent on social media on school days is far from beneficial, especially for girls.”
She said that curbs on screen time would give parents an idea of how long their children should spend on social media, “whether it’s a timer or you are automatically logged out”.
The study found 10 per cent of 10-year-old girls spent one to three hours a day on social media, compared to 7 per cent of boys. At 15 this rose to 43 per cent of girls and 31 per cent of boys. For boys and girls, happiness levels fell from the age of 10 to 15, but the drop was greater for girls. Well-being among older girls was associated with how much they interacted on social media at the age of 10. This was not the case for boys.
Professor Yvonne Kelly, professor of lifecourse epidemiology at UCL, said: “For girls it can be about how many ‘likes’ they are getting. That may be less important for young boys. Another way could be through encountering cyber-bullying. The more time spent online, the more likely they are to come across negative stuff.
“The third is the impact on sleep. If you have your phone by your bed and it buzzes, few of us have the willpower to resist getting that little kick that so-and-so has got back to me.”