Many young people have shared something difficult with friends on social media. Most of them found that they received social support afterwards. They felt better after sharing their story.

Many young people think that social media can help their mental health

Researchers, media and politicians all tend to focus on the negative aspects of social media, according to psychologist and researcher.

Numerous researchers have found a connection between poor mental health among young people and social media.

A finding from one survey has shown that the number of young girls who develop symptoms of depression and loneliness has doubled in the last 25 years.

The clearest increase occurred with the launching of social media.

Negative focus predominates

Jens Christoffer Skogen is a researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and has done a lot of research on youth and social media.

He believes that some of the research on this topic is too one-sided in how it is presented.

Skogen and his colleagues have previously investigated the research angle taken in some of the studies.

Jens Christioffer Skogen is a psychologist and researcher. He believes that researchers have focused primarily on the negative aspects of social media.

They found that most research articles on youth and social media focus primarily on the negative aspects.

Almost none of the research on young people's use of social media and gaming had looked at the positive aspects.

Research alone does not provide an answer

Skogen believes that the question of whether or not social media harms the mental health of children and adolescents does not have a simple answer.

The research is simply not good enough for that.

“Social media is an important social arena for young people, so we want to look at both positive and negative aspects of social media use in relation to their mental health and well-being.”

About more than time

Most of the research has focused on how much time young people spend on social media. But Skogen believes it isn’t enough just to measure time.

“A lot of things are more important for your mental health than how much time you spend on social media,” he says.

More important is what you use your time on social media for, he believes.

“How social media affects you also depends on who you are, who you’re in contact with and why you use social media. And not least what your experience is there.”

Both positive and negative sides

A lot of attention is paid to perfect images of perfect bodies and perfect lives as being the main content on social media.

But the young people who were interviewed for Skogen's study also give a different story.

Many of them keep in touch with friends, make new friends and experience positive attention through social media.

Feel better afterwards

Many young people have shared something difficult with friends on social media. And most of them experienced social support afterwards.

The researchers also find that those who experience this support express feeling better after sharing their story, says Skogen.

Especially girls tend to find that they receive positive attention when they share something on social media. Social media is more important for girls than boys as well.

Boys are more interested in online gaming.

Many boys find that gaming helps them feel like part of a community and that they make close friends through it.

Big differences between youth

Skogen and his colleagues have found big differences in what young people experience on social media.

Individuals whose social media experience is mostly negative – for example being left out – also often tend to have a bit of a hard time in other areas of their lives, Skogen says.

Skogen believes a family’s financial circumstances, how you're doing at school and how much support you get from other people in your life all play a bigger role in mental health than social media does.

Doesn't believe in age limits

Skogen thinks the authorities should do more to regulate content on social media.

Posts, such as advertising that targets children and youth or content that is directly harmful, are examples.

The Norwegian government is now working to introduce age limits on Snapchat and TikTok.

But Skogen has no faith in age limits alone.

“I believe that it’s more important for parents and teachers at school to talk to young people about the use of social media.”

Adults need to learn more

The researchers know that the adults find it difficult. 

Adults do not know the media well enough. 

The researchers have therefore helped to create information that teachers can use in the classroom when they have to talk to pupils about the use of social media, Skogen says.

These guidelines are also aimed at parents.

References (all in Norwegian): 

Report from a survey about social media and online gaming among young people.

News article on VG about social media and depression.

Website for parents and teachers on how to talk to young people about social media.


Translated by Ingrid P. Nuse

Read the Norwegian version of this article on

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