Impact of social media on children faces fresh scrutinyRuth Mabhiza
UK researchers study 40,000 households to explore biggest risk factors for mental health.
Among daily users, children with a mental health disorder spent more time on social media, research has shown. Photograph: Alamy
Barely a day goes by without concerns being raised about the effect of social media on children’s mental health. Now a study aims to delve behind the headlines to ascertain whether it has been unfairly vilified.
By analysing data from a longitudinal survey of 40,000 households, researchers from Portsmouth and Sheffield universities hope to identify the biggest risk factors for children’s mental health. This could help determine whether social media are negative or positive for children’s wellbeing and in what circumstances.
Craig Duncan, a senior research fellow at Portsmouth University and one of three experts working on the project, said: “Social media have been associated with all sorts of worries to do with mental health – there’s a lot of anxiety about it.
“What we are hoping to do is gain data that gives us a sense of those factors most strongly associated with mental health. Is it [young people’s] social media use that’s more important, their local neighbourhood or parental influences?
“We are hoping to reach the stage where, given the data set we have, it is possible to identify particular ages, genders or social backgrounds where social media might be more or less strongly associated with children’s mental health.”