Frequent Social Media Use and Its Prospective Association With Mental Health Problems in a Representative Panel Sample of US Adolescents



      This study examined the relationship between frequent social media use and subsequent mental health in a representative sample of US adolescents. Also investigated were sex differences in multiyear growth trajectories of mental health problem internalization relative to social media use.


      Four waves (2013–2018) of nationally representative, longitudinal Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health data were analyzed. A total of 5,114 US adolescents aged 12–14 years at baseline had repeated data across all waves. Statistical analysis involved testing a series of sequential-weighted single-group and multi-group latent growth curve models using R version 3.6.2.


      Of the 5,114 respondents, 2,491 were girls (48.7%). The percentage of frequent social media use was 26.4% at Wave 1 and 69.1% at Wave 4 for boys compared to 38.3% and 80.6% for girls (p < .001). Boys showed an improving (−0.218, p = .005) but girls showed a deteriorating linear trend (0.229, p = .028) for mental health at the full multigroup latent growth curve model. Social media use accounted for mental health conditions across Waves 1–3 for boys (ps<.01) but only at Wave 1 for girls (p = .035). With the addition of the social media use variable alone, model fit dramatically improved, and residual variances in growth patterns (i.e., random effect) became nonsignificant for boys. Substantial sex differences existed in baseline status, directionality, and shape of mental health growth trajectories as well as interplay of social media use with other factors.


      Findings of the study suggest that frequent social media use is associated with poorer subsequent mental health for adolescents.


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