I’ve written on this blog before about irresponsible fearmongering when it comes to technology. It’s one thing to judiciously weigh the pros and cons when it comes to technology and our children. It’s a whole ‘nother to just throw claims out there that lack evidence.
In today’s New York Times article, Does Instagram harm girls? No one actually knows., Dr. Laurence Steinberg, Professor of Psychology at Temple University, said:
… there is a growing scientific literature on the links between social media use and adolescent mental health. But as yet it is not possible to draw any firm conclusions from it, in part because very few studies have the characteristics listed above. Of the better studies that have found a negative correlation between social media use and adolescent mental health, most have found extremely small effects – so small as to be trivial and dwarfed by other contributors to adolescent mental health [emphasis added].
Complicating matters further is that in the Facebook surveys, twice as many respondents reported that Instagram alleviated suicidal thinking than said it worsened it; three times as many said it made them feel less anxious than said it made them feel more so; and nearly five times as many reported that Instagram made them less sad than that it made them sadder.
We should be just as skeptical about correlational research that links social media use to reports of positive well-being as we are about research that reaches the opposite conclusion. But given the widespread eagerness to condemn social media it’s important to remember that it may benefit more adolescents than it hurts.
Facts matter. Truth matters. It may be that Instagram actually is more harmful to teenage girls than helpful. But until we have better evidence, let’s be careful before we make wide-ranging claims about youth and technology, okay?
Report cited in this week’s Economist that Instagram makes twice as many girls feel good about themselves as bad about themselves. (Not an Instagram user myself.)