Social media use, television viewing and computer use are associated with increase in the symptoms of anxiety among adolescents, according to a study. The research, published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, shows that a higher than average frequency of social media use, television viewing and computer use over four years predicts more severe symptoms of anxiety over that same time frame.
In the study, when adolescents decreased their social media use, television viewing, and computer use, their symptoms of anxiety became less severe, according to the researchers from the University of Montreal in Canada. A recent study by the team found associations of social media use and television viewing on symptoms of depression.
The study, however, did not find the same relationship with computer use. It appears that computer use is uniquely associated to increases in anxiety, potentially in relation to using the computer for homework activities, the researchers said. The study could have important implications for how youth and families choose to regulate digital screen time in order to prevent and reduce symptoms of anxiety.
The findings indicate that social media use, television viewing, and computer use are predictors of anxiety in adolescence. While the results are observation based, the researchers controlled for any potential common underlying vulnerability to high levels of screen time and anxiety.
"More research is needed, including research that includes experimental designs, to confirm that it is exposure to social media, television, and computer use that is causing elevated rates of anxiety in young people," said Patricia Conrod, a professor at the University of Montreal.
Conrod's team followed almost four thousand Canadian teenagers from age 12 to 16. Each year of high school, teens were asked to self-report time spent in front of digital screens. They also reported the amount of time spent engaging in four different types of screen time activities -- social media, television, video gaming, and computer use.
The teenagers completed self-reported questionnaires on various anxiety symptoms at the age of 12 to 16. "These findings suggest that one way to help teens manage anxiety could be to help them limit the amount of time they spend in front of screens," said Conrod.