About three hours a day looking at social media could be good for teenagers, although researchers warn spending longer than four hours could be bad for their health.
Research into whether prolonged use of social media like Tik Tok, Instagram and Facebook was sparked by widespread public health concerns over whether it was harming or helping young people's mental wellbeing.
A team from the University of Aberdeen's Health Economics Research Unit have worked alongside colleagues from University of Wollongong's School of Business to delve into the duration of social media use and its effects on behavioural outcomes.
The joint research project has found limited screen time on social media may benefit teens by helping them form more meaningful and positive peer relationships.
"In terms of policy and public health implications, it seems important to address high levels of social media use, rather than stigmatise social media use per se as a completely negative phenomenon," she said.
The study, published in Economics and Human Biology, found when compared to no social media use, using it for up to three hours per day was good for positive peer relationships. Longer spells of four or more hours per day was deemed detrimental for adolescents' self-esteem and emotional health, and also increased the incidence of hyperactivity, inattention and conduct problems.
Using data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study, which surveyed around 40,000 households living in the UK, researchers used advanced modelling to investigate the effect that social media use amongst 10-15-year-olds, can have on mental health, peer relationships, and emotional difficulties among other factors.
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Professor Paul McNamee from the University of Aberdeen, who co-led the research said policy makers and public health experts have voiced strong concerns regarding the potential harmful implications for young people's mental well-being from spending too much time trawling social media.
"While several studies in the UK show that mood disorders in young people have increased dramatically in recent years, particularly among girls and young women, there is a lack of robust data from well-designed studies that have tracked adolescents over time, and less is known about the positive as well as negative effects of social media on their mental health.
"Our study is amongst the first that has looked at the longer-term relationship between social media use and the development of later emotional and behavioural difficulties."
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