Why age and gender matter when it comes to kids and social media

Social media's impact varies, from photo-sharing sites that help kids feel connected to posts that encourage bullying or body shaming. Researchers now say that the impact of social media changes based on a teen's age.

For years, we’ve heard the debates about social media and teens. The good, the bad and the ugly. From photo-sharing sites that helped kids feel connected during the pandemic to posts that made kids feel bullied, or body shamed. Now, researchers say the impact of social media may change throughout adolescence.

According to a survey from Common Sense Media, kids spend between five to seven hours a day swiping right, posting and tweeting. Many become addicted to it.

In fact, scientists have studied the brains of teens on social media and noted that the rewards center of the brain lights up.

“That brain region became more active when teens saw that other kid’s photos had a lot of likes and particularly when they saw that they got a lot of likes on their own photos,” says Lauren Sherman, a cognitive neuroscientist.

Now, researchers in the United Kingdom say a teen’s age and gender may also play a part.

In their study, girls were negatively influenced starting at age 11. For boys, the drawbacks began around age 14. The study showed social media negatively affected both boys and girls by age 19.

The researchers think developmental changes during puberty could influence how social media makes younger teens feel. Older teens may face life changes, like moving out on their own or starting new jobs, that affect their overall mental health.

The researchers say it’s important to understand which teens have the highest risk of struggling mentally due to social media use and pinpointing the developmental and biological changes that take place is a start.