The intensive use of mobile phones and social networks is associated with an increase in mental problems, self-harm and suicide behavior among young people, according to a Canadian study that shows that the phenomenon affects girls more.
A team of researchers at a children’s hospital in Toronto published this Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) a study that reaffirms the harmful effects of social media use among young people.
Mental illnesses, self-injurious behaviors and suicide attempts have increased in recent years among the adolescent population.
There is a relationship between these phenomena and the excessive use of social networks and “the effects appear to be greater among girls”, says the study that is available on the CMAJ website.
The study now released, on the eve of Safer Internet Day, is based on the systematic review of another 20 studies that have been carried out in recent years with children and adolescents from various countries.
Researchers at the children’s hospital Sick Kids, in Toronto, analyzed data on the use of mobile phones and the internet that warn that social networks may affect the way teenagers see themselves, as well as the relationships they create with those around them.
Social comparisons and negative interactions, including ‘bullying’, were some of the problems detected.
In addition, the study continues, in some cases social networks give the idea of a “normalization of self-harm and suicide among young people”.
Other consequences of the excessive use of these technologies are sleep deprivation and decreased academic performance.
“Public awareness campaigns are needed as well as social policies that promote home and school environments that increase the resilience of young people while navigating the challenges of adolescence in today’s world”, defends the study.
In Ontario, the percentage of teenagers identified as having mental health problems has been on the rise: in 2013 it was 24%, rose to 34% in 2015 and reached 39% in 2017.
Consultations and admissions of children and young people to health services for mental health issues have also increased across the country.
Researchers also underline that the problem affects girls more: cases of female self-mutilation soared between 2009 and 2014, with an increase of 110%.
In Canada, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people, a reality that is repeated in other countries. In the United States of America, suicide attempts and ideas among children and adults almost doubled between 2008 and 2015. Also in America, the phenomenon has more impact among girls.
Two other studies – one carried out by American researchers and the other by Germans – showed that students who spend more time on Facebook end up envying their friends and feeling that others invariably have a better life.
If researchers have no doubt that excessive use of ‘smartphones’ and too many hours on social networks are harmful to young people, the same cannot be said of online games: “No evidence has been found” of the negative effects of this type activities.