The findings suggest heavy use of social media may not prove too unhealthy, if only the other problems could be eradicated. Picture: AP

London - Sleep and seeing friends may have a bigger effect on teenage girls’ mental wellbeing than social media, a report suggests.

A study of 7 000 youngsters has found, when other factors are taken into account, social media use and wellbeing are not as strongly linked as previously thought.

Campaigners have long said youngsters need to spend less time on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as it is making them depressed. However, the British government’s report finds the sites are not causing psychological trauma.

Instead, it is the side-effects of social media use, such as online bullying, failure to see friends in real life and lack of sleep which cause problems.

The findings suggest heavy use of social media may not prove too unhealthy, if only the other problems could be eradicated.

The report, from the UK Department for Education, found bullying was the factor most strongly associated with girls’ mental wellbeing, but this becomes less important with older girls. 

When it comes to social media, it found this "did not have a strong association with teenage girls’ psychological health", after accounting for the other factors.

It said: "One possible explanation is that the link between social media use and psychological health is through factors such as experiences of online bullying and sleep, and once these are accounted for the direct association of social media with girls’ psychological health is relatively small."

Girls aged 14 and 15 who use social media regularly throughout the day have "marginally worse" mental health than those who used it once daily or two to three times a day, the report said. 

However, it concludes: "Social media use had one of the smallest effects of all the factors we examined: getting enough sleep and seeing friends were about three times larger."

It added: "Being bullied, including online bullying, had an association with psychological health about eight times larger than social media use."

Overall, the study shows that while the majority of young people are relatively happy with their lives, there is a growing proportion that is not.

Daily Mail