As Social Media Time Rises, So Does Teen Girls’ Suicide Risk

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TUESDAY, Feb. 16, 2021 — As the amount of time young teenage girls spend glued to Instagram, TikTok and other social media sites goes up, so does their long-term risk for suicide, a new study warns.

The finding stems from a decade spent tracking social media habits and suicide risk among 500 teenage boys and girls, the longest such effort to date, the study authors said.

“We found that girls who started using social media at two to three hours a day or more at age 13, and then increased [that use] over time, had the highest levels of suicide risk in emerging adulthood,” said study author Sarah Coyne. She is associate director of the school of family life at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

Among boys, however, no such pattern emerged. One reason why, Coyne’s team theorized, is that social media and young girls tend to focus on the same thing: relationships. Boys, not so much.

“We know that girls tend to feel and internalize relationship distress at different levels than boys,” said Coyne. “This type of relationship distress can — but not always — be present in social media interactions. [Girls] also have higher levels of social comparison, fear of missing out, etc. So, that is why the effects were likely stronger for girls.”

For the study, annual surveys were conducted between 2009 and 2019, with teens aged 14, on average, at the study’s launch.

Most of the risk pertained to girls who as young adolescents were already spending a lot of time using social media, TV and/or video games

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