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Today's teens have a lot on their plate. They strive for perfect grades, decent volunteer concerts, college essays, trophies in many sports – and many still find hours a day to spend on social media.
"It's an incredibly stressful time to be a teenager," says pediatrician Megan Moreno, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
To top it all off, teens "sacrifice their personal time," Moreno says.
And maybe try to do it online. A new UK report says that more than 1 in 5 teenagers spend five hours or more a day on social media. And the heavier social media users go to bed later and get worse quality sleep.
While these statistics may send some parents to delve directly into the wall socket to turn off the Wi-Fi router, Moreno says that social media is too often described as wholly good or bad when reality is more complicated for teens.
"Social media is the way they keep in touch," she says.
She said that researchers should focus instead on understanding "where social media fits into this culture of ongoing connection."
The new study, published Tuesday in the BMJ Open, is based on self-reported data from nearly 12,000 teenage participants in the British Cohort Study – a nationally representative group of people born in 2000. and 2001. The study seeks to gather baseline data on the use of social media for teenagers in the UK to inform guidelines for the safe use of social media – similar to US guidelines set by the US KADEM of Pediatrics.
The study found a wide range of how many hours a day teens spend on social media. In general, girls are more likely to be heavy users. In the lowest end, 22.8% of women and 43.8% of men use social media for less than an hour a day, while in the upper end 28.4% of women and 13.7% of men use social media in for five hours or more per day.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the study finds a link between high use of social media and poor sleep patterns. In particular, teenagers who report more use of social media go to sleep later.
And, the authors of the study note, late bedtime is associated with poorer academic and mental health outcomes. A research team has found a link between teenage screen use and depression, although the relationship has been discussed.
Holly Scott, a researcher at the University of Glasgow and the main author of the study, does not sound alarming. She says: "It's easy to look at the results and think, 'We just have to get teens to spend less time on social media.' I think that's an understandable answer, but what I really encourage people to do is look beyond that. "
She says people need to pay attention to the" important emotional and cognitive and social factors "that play when teens use social media.
Moreno agrees. She says patients describe her using social media to keep in touch with family members who live far away, or double check their homework with a teacher or classmate after school, in addition to keeping in touch with friends.
"Many children cannot find the time to communicate with their friends because all Chicks are in forty different activities, "Moreno says.
Scott emphasizes that research points to a link between social media and poor sleep, but does not necessarily demonstrate cause and effect.
" Certainly some teens say that they struggle to get out of social media at night – they can worry about missing things or hurt their friends by not responding to messages – and stay up late, "she says. But "maybe for some of these young people, they naturally have a later body clock and spend their free time at night on social media until they're ready to sleep," she says.
And Scott says that the raw data they shot, especially the large number of teens towards the low end of daily use of social media, are the opposite. "There is an assumption that all teens spend all their time on social media," Scott says, but the numbers show a wide range. She says this is critical information to have when it comes to making public health recommendations.
Moreno says context also matters when making recommendations. "Social media is a reflection of our culture. When we see studies that say, "Hey, these kids don't sleep as well as they used to," we have to be able to say, "Okay, it's got to do with social media, but what does this mean for us as a culture? How did we allow that to happen? "
The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines, which were updated in 2016, offer parents to work with their children to create a plan for using family media. – Time together together.
Moreno also emphasizes the power of positive reinforcement as you try to help a teenager change his behavior: "I think it's time to remind people of things that are doing well – if it makes you feel good – then more so oyatno to continue doing this than if you only focus on the things we need to fix it. "