Social media can increase anxiety in girls through impaired self-esteem

A study conducted in collaboration with the National Center for Suicide Research and Prevention (NASP) has examined an association between screen time spent on social media, anxiety, and self-esteem among elementary school girls in Stockholm County.

The study analyzed health questionnaire data from 1161 girls in elementary grades 7-8, randomly selected from 116 recruited middle schools across Stockholm County between the years 2016 and 2019. Participants were asked to self-assess how they spent their time online and the number of leisure hours devoted to online activities on their phones and/or computers, both on weekdays and weekends. The average participant reported spending 4.7 hours per day online, with much of that time likely spent on Instagram and/or Snapchat. The girls also rated their symptoms of anxiety and self-esteem.

Previous research has indicated that social media tends to have more health consequences for girls than boys, in terms of increased anxiety and depression. Based on this premise, the study focused solely on participants who identified as girls. At the time of data collection, it was revealed that three-quarters (1161 individuals) of all responding girls had Instagram and/or Snapchat among their top three online activities. To isolate the effects of these two social platforms, the remaining quarter was excluded from the study.

Association between social media and impaired self-esteem

The results indicated a robust association where more hours spent online was coupled with more severe anxiety symptoms. Furthermore, this association could be attributed to screen time being linked to lower self-esteem.

– Elementary school girls’ use of Instagram and Snapchat appeared to be associated with diminished self-esteem, rendering them more vulnerable to anxiety. While the study does not indicate any causal relationships, the results suggest that reducing social media usage could promote a healthier self-image and better mental health among our young girls – a group where anxiety disorders are prevalent, says author Natalie Raderius.

Continued efforts to empower young girls are important

The findings do not show whether it is the hours spent on social media that increases anxiety via reduced self-esteem, or vice versa. However, continued efforts to strengthen young girls’ self-esteem and address existing anxiety disorders within this group are recommended. This is because young girls’ social media use is unlikely to decline within the foreseeable future.

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