Are you the parent of teenagers or pre-teens? Then I’m sure you are aware of their social media habits and usage. Many parents of both boys and girls have noticed big differences in the way their kids use technology, with their sons gravitating to video games and their daughters spending more screen time scrolling through social media.
And emerging research indicates that brain differences between males and females help account for the split. Larry Cahill, a professor of neurobiology and behavior at the University of California, Irvine, has spent two decades researching gender differences in the brain. He chronicled the aggression some boys exhibit when they have to shut off videogames and transition to other activities, as well as the problems some young men face when they go to college and have to juggle game time and school work without mom and dad’s help.
So why don’t girls have the same problems? When it comes to videogames, most girls seem to have a better handle on when to stop. But social media’s impact is much more detrimental to girls than boys.
Data from Pew Research Center shows that, in general, women use social platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest more than men. Many girls and women are drawn to those photo-sharing sites because they like to form bonds and find similarities, says Rosanna Guadagno, a social psychologist at Stanford University. Experts and parents say they have found that girls appear to have a greater fear of missing out, which compels them to keep up with what their friends are posting. Some recent studies show that girls feel the ill effects of too much social media use, such as depression and anxiety, more than boys do.
Liz Repking, a cyber safety expert and mother of three in suburban Chicago, has seen the differences in her own sons and daughter. Earlier this summer, her 15-year-old daughter said her phone was driving her crazy. She told her that she felt pressured to follow her friends’ Instagram stories and like and comment on their posts, and that it was eating up a lot of her time, Ms. Repking said.
Her sons, 18 and 21, use social media—Snapchat, in particular—mostly to communicate with friends but don’t feel compelled to keep up with what people are posting. “There’s more peer pressure and validation I see with it for her than for the boys,” she said.
Boys and girls also have differing perceptions of the amount of time they spend using various technologies. Girls are somewhat more likely than boys to say they spend too much time on social media (47% vs. 35%). By contrast, boys are roughly four times as likely to say they spend too much time playing video games (41% of boys and 11% of girls say this).
Anxiety and Social Media
Teens encounter a range of emotions when they do not have their cellphones, but anxiety tops the list. The survey asked about five different emotions teens might feel when they do not have their cellphones, and “anxious” (mentioned by 42% of teens) is the one cited by the largest share. Around ¼ say they feel lonely (25%) or upset (24%) in these instances. In total, 56% associate the absence of their cellphone with at least one of these negative emotions.
And it probably won’t shock you to hear that another major study has found a strong link between heavy social media use and depression - this time, among 14-year-olds. Surprisingly, among the “heaviest users” group, girls outnumber boys two to one. The more a person of either gender used social media, the greater the likelihood of depression. But even when boys and girls spent exactly the same amount of time on social media, the depression risk for girls was significantly higher.
Using data from over 10,000 14-year-olds who took part in the UK Millennium Cohort Study, researchers found 40% of girls admitted being on their social media accounts for more than three hours a day - compared to only 20% of boys. And across the board, more hours scrolling resulted in a greater risk of depression.
Among teens who were on social media more than five hours a day, girls’ depression scores rose to 50% - while boys only increased to 35%. Why? Some experts suggest that girls make more comparisons between themselves and the images they view in a way that boys don’t. And that “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall” habit is notoriously bad for mental health.
Other common factors for both boys and girls who are heavy social media users included lack of sleep and cyberbullying, with girls being more prone to the latter.
If you notice changes in your teenagers, whether it be mood, isolation, or withdrawal from certain activities…check their social media usage. By getting ahead of any problems that are creeping to the surface, you can possibly save your child from the harmful effects of anxiety and depression.