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Study: Increased suicide risk for teen girls with heavy social media use

FILE: A teen girl works on a computer. Photo: Canva

SALT LAKE CITY — A ten-year study from Brigham Young University (BYU) researchers highlights a potential risk for suicide in certain users of social media.

Specifically, the research found that girls who were on social media in their early teens for between two and three hours per day reported more suicidal thoughts when they became young adults later on.

Recommendations for parents

Based on her findings, Dr. Sarah M. Coyne, the Associate Director of the School of Family Life at BYU, recommends that parents wait until their daughters are a little older before allowing them to participate in social media. And even then, time on social media platforms should be limited.

“I have a 13-year-old daughter right now,” said Dr. Coyne. “She loves TikTok, like her friends. We try to keep her at a limit of 15-20 minutes a day, to keep her far away from that 2-3 hours which indicates the clinical levels of suicide risk.”

Coyne says girls are particularly sensitive to relationship distress, and that social media is all about relationships.

“High social comparisons, high levels of FOMO [fear of missing out], social exclusion, things like that, they feel it more deeply, so that’s why we feel like the risk is higher for girls than for boys.”

Gradually increase allowed time

Dr. Coyne suggests that over time, teens can gradually scale up the amount of time they are using social media and increase their personal choices and responsibility.

β€œAt age 13, they are just not developmentally ready to deal with that, on a 2-3 hours a day basis. So I recommend starting out with low levels that moderately, slowly increase over time.”

And Dr. Coyne has another recommendation for parents of teen girls.

“Help them be a healthy user of social media.”

In other words, she recommends that parents join with their teen daughters who are using social media and take the time to talk to their children about what they see and how they feel about it.

What about boys?

The research also found that the tendency toward suicide in young adult years wasn’t as strongly associated with boys who spent time on social media as young teens.

However, that tendency increases among boys who were heavy users of online video games and, as such, potentially subject to cyber-bullying.

Dr. Coyne has created what she calls a social media curriculum which includes tips on healthy social media use.  

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, or if you know someone who is, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.