Almost half of teenagers feel addicted to social media – study

3 January 2024, 10:44

Social media
Social media. Picture: PA

Cambridge researchers analysed data collected from 17-year-olds as part of The Millennium Cohort Study.

Almost half of teenagers feel as if they are addicted to social media, according to analysis.

The early findings from a study being carried out at the University of Cambridge were described as “striking”, with researchers saying that some people’s relationship with social media could be “akin to a behavioural addiction”.

The Cambridge team is analysing data from the Millennium Cohort Study, which is being carried out by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) at the University of London.

It is following the lives of more than 18,000 babies born in the UK from 2000 and 2001 to map the backgrounds of children born in the early 21st century.

Cambridge researchers found 48% of 7,022 people surveyed agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I think I am addicted to social media”.

The data was collected between January 2018 and March 2019, when the cohort was 17 years old.

The total who answered that they feel addicted included a higher proportion of girls (57%) compared to boys (37%).

University of Cambridge graduate student Georgia Turner, who led the analysis, said: “We’re not saying the people who say they feel addicted are addicted. But it’s not a nice feeling to feel you don’t have agency over your own behaviour, so it’s quite striking that so many people feel like that.”

Ms Turner added that research which assumes “so-called social media addiction” could follow the same framework as drug addiction “is likely to be over-simplistic”.

“It could be that, for some, their relationship with social media is akin to a behavioural addiction,” she said.

“But for others, their use could be driven by compulsive checking, others may be relying on it to cope with negative life experiences, and others may simply be responding to negative social perceptions about ‘wasting time’ on social media.

“There may be different pathways to thinking you are addicted, rather than everyone feeling they’re addicted in the same way.

“This is important not just for a philosophical discussion about addiction but in order to find appropriate interventions where needed. If addiction isn’t what’s causing someone’s problems, an addiction-based intervention may not help them.”

Ms Turner’s work is ongoing and has not been peer reviewed or published formally.

By Press Association

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