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Why Depressed Teens May Need a Twitter Time-Out

The Short of It

A new study has looked at the link between teens' social media use and their mental health, and it found that when teens spent more time on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, their mental health was poorer.

The Lowdown

Researchers in Ottawa, Canada set out to answer this question: Are teens going to social media more frequently because they have poor mental health and seek more human interaction, or is the overuse of social media possibly leading to cyberbullying and causing low feelings? So, they asked 750 students in seventh through 12th grades about their social media usage and how it makes them feel. The overall findings led them to believe that the more often teens use social media, the more often they consider their mental health to be poor. The study's results were published in the journal "Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking."

One-fifth of the teens said they rarely or never use social media. A little over half of the students said they browse social media regularly, but for less than two hours a day. And one-fourth of the respondents said they use social media for two or more hours daily.

Two-thirds of the students said their mental health is "excellent" or "very good." One-fifth said their mental health is just "good" while the remaining 17 percent chose "poor" to describe their mental health status.

"It is difficult to speculate what mechanisms may link the use of social networking sites to mental health problems," said study author Dr. Hugues Sampasa-Kanyinga, from the Department of Epidemiology at Ottawa Public Health in Ottawa, Canada.

Surprisingly, 13 percent of the students admitted they have contemplated suicide. And, a quarter of the teens said their mental health needs were not being met.

"A simple use of social networking sites cannot fully explain by itself the occurrence of mental health problems," Sampasa-Kanyinga said. "There are several factors that could interact to explain mental health outcomes," she said, such as substance use, bullying, body image and weight concerns, family history and context.

The Upshot

I think the main takeaway here is that parents need to be aware of how frequently their teen is using social media, and that there's nothing wrong with quietly monitoring what the child is posting or saying online. My friends who have teenage children are friends with them online so they can see each other's social media posts. If a parent notices the teen posting or sharing topics that may indicate mental health concerns, they need to talk about it. Sure, bringing up that conversation isn't easy, but it needs to be done.

Do you monitor your child's social media profiles? Why or why not?

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