Teens spend countless hours glued to their phones and tablets, continually posting to social media, but British researchers report that might not be as terrible as many parents may think.
It appears that teens who are less satisfied with their lives do tend to spend more time on Snapchat, Instagram and the like, but the link between life satisfaction and time spent on social media was "trivial," the research found.
"The previous literature was based almost entirely on correlations with no means to dissociate whether social media use leads to changes in life satisfaction or changes in life satisfaction influence social media use," explained researcher Amy Orben, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Oxford.
But by applying new modeling methods to an eight-year survey of households in the United Kingdom, the researchers were able to tease out data that gave them a better understanding of the effect of social media.
The survey looked at how much time teens spent on social media during a normal school day and compared this with their life satisfaction ratings.
The researchers did find lower life satisfaction increased the time spent on social media, while less time on social media was tied to higher life satisfaction.
This finding was stronger among girls than boys, but even so, the connection was tenuous, they noted.
Co-lead author Andrew Przybylski, director of research at Oxford Internet Institute, said this finding is an important step in understanding the effects of social media.
"Given the rapid pace of technological advancement in recent years, the question of how our increasing use of technology to interact with each other affects our well-being has become increasingly important," Przybylski said in an Oxford news release.
"With most of the current debate is based on lackluster evidence, this study represents an important step towards mapping the effects of technology on adolescent well-being," he said.
These findings hint at what the effect of social media might be on teens, but more and better data are needed to really understand the impact of social media, the researchers added.
"Applying transparent and innovative statistical approaches, we show that social media effects are not a one-way street, they are nuanced, reciprocal, possibly contingent on gender, and arguably trivial in size," the researchers concluded.
The study was published May 6 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The Pew Research Center has more about social media.