Further evidence is now emerging about the risks of allowing children to use social media.
A study published last week in The British Medical Journal found the use of social media platforms is linked to “risky health behaviours” in young people.
Examples of such behaviors include increased alcohol consumption, drug-taking, anti-social behavior, sex and gambling, according to a BMJ news release Wednesday.
“Exposure to risky health behaviour content on social media such as alcohol advertising had the strongest evidence of harm, particularly in relation to alcohol use and unhealthy eating,” the release said.
“The researchers say further research is needed to establish causality, understand effects on health inequalities, and determine which aspects of social media are most harmful,” it continued.
Among the study’s key findings were that using social media daily increases young people’s risk of alcohol consumption by 48 percent, drug use by 28 percent and tobacco use by 85 percent.
Furthermore, frequent social media use was found to increase the likelihood of engaging in “risky sexual behaviours such as sexting, transactional sex, and inconsistent condom use” by 77 percent and anti-social behavior by 73 percent. It also triples the probability of gambling.
Popular social media companies such as Facebook, Snapchat and TikTok have a minimum age limit of 13, although this is often disregarded by young users who simply enter a false date of birth.
The review’s conclusions are drawn from an analysis of more than 250 social media metrics documented across 73 separate studies from 1997 to 2022, involving some 1.4 million young people. The age range was 10 to 19, with an average age of 15.
The researchers cautioned about the limitations of the study, pointing out that “most social media measures relied on personal recall and they can’t rule out the possibility that other unmeasured factors, such as parental health risk behaviours, may have influenced their results.”
“Experimental and risk taking behaviours are an inherent part of adolescence,” the authors wrote.
“However, as safeguards for a digital world are still evolving, precaution across academic, governmental, health and educational sectors may be warranted before the risks of adolescents’ use of social media is fully understood.”
The elevated risk of potentially destructive behaviors is far from the only threat social media poses to young people.
According to the Mayo Clinic, social media use can negatively affect teens by “distracting them, disrupting their sleep, and exposing them to bullying, rumor spreading, unrealistic views of other people’s lives and peer pressure.”
However, it said the negative impacts are also likely related to the level of usage.
“A 2019 study of more than 6,500 12- to 15-year-olds in the U.S. found that those who spent more than three hours a day using social media might be at heightened risk for mental health problems,” the Mayo Clinic noted.
“Another 2019 study of more than 12,000 13- to 16-year-olds in England found that using social media more than three times a day predicted poor mental health and well-being in teens,” it said.
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