Does social media make teenagers unhappy? It may depend on their age.

Both the boys and girls in the study experienced a second phase of social media awareness around the age of 19. “That was quite surprising because it was so consistent across genders,” said Dr. orbs Around this age, she said, many people are going through major social upheavals — like starting college, working a new job, or becoming independent for the first time — that could change the way they interact with social media, she said.

Although the new report drew on richer datasets than previous studies, it still lacked some information that would help interpret the results, experts said. For example, waiting a year between replies is not ideal. And although the surveys asked how much time participants spent communicating on social media, they didn’t ask how they used it; Talking to strangers while simultaneously playing a video game can have different effects than texting a group of school friends.

Along with previous work, the results suggest that while most teens are not greatly affected by social media, a small subset could be significantly harmed by its effects. But it is impossible to predict the risks for an individual child.

“What does this mean for your 12-year-old? It’s hard to know,” said Michaeline Jensen, a clinical psychologist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Given the small effect observed in the study, “very few of these children would progress from normal functioning to clinical depression,” she said. But “that doesn’t mean none of them would.”

dr Jensen pointed out that the study also found a correlation in the opposite direction: Across all age groups, participants who felt bad about their lives spent more time on social media a year later. This suggests that for some people, technology may be more of a coping mechanism than the cause of their depression.

All of these experts said they are often frustrated by the public debates about social media and children, who so often inflate the platforms’ harms and ignore the benefits.

“It carries risks — peer influence, contagion, drug use,” said Dr. jensen “But it can also bring a lot of positive things,” like support, connection, creativity and mastery of skills, she added. “I think that’s often overlooked because we’re so focused on risk.”

Audio produced by Kate Winslett. Does social media make teenagers unhappy? It may depend on their age.

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