The rise of social media has changed the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world, but can the use of social media lead to depression?

In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a report that suggested social media sites such as Facebook could lead to depression in adolescents. Researchers in the report warned about the effects of social media depression, a theory that stems from the idea that spending too much time on sites like Facebook and Twitter can cause teens to form a negative view of themselves when compared to others.

For example, if your son or daughter only has 100 friends on Facebook, but rival classmates have hundreds or thousands of friends, your child might begin to wonder why they aren’t as popular. Cyberbullying also frequently occurs through social media, and the posting of embarrassing pictures or unkind comments can negatively effect how adolescents view themselves.

Researchers also cautioned that social media depression can occur even if a teen wasn’t the victim of bullying. A friend’s status update that talks about how happy they are with their significant other, how much fun they had at a party, or what grade they got on an exam could leave a teen wondering why they aren’t as happy, and why their life isn’t going as well.

Experts estimate that approximately 11 percent of the world’s population uses Facebook, and that the average person in the U.S. spends over 7.5 hours each month using the site. Compared to adults, teenagers spend dramatically more time using the social media giant’s website, as 22 percent of teens log onto their Facebook account over 10 times a day. Even trying to distance yourself from interacting with social media has become difficult in recent years, as 2.5 million websites have already integrated themselves with Facebook and Twitter.

If social media really does possess the potential to cause so much harm, what can parents possibly do in order to limit their child’s exposure?

Fortunately for parents struggling with this dilemma, a study just released by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health suggests that using Facebook does not increase a child’s probability of depression.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, surveyed 190 students between the ages of 18 and 23 trying to draw a correlation between the use of social media and depression. As part of the study, researchers sent students 43 text message questionnaires at varying intervals throughout the day during an 11-month period. The students were asked if they were online at the time of receiving the questionnaire, how long they had been online previously during that day, and what they were looking at while online.

While researchers found that the study participants were on Facebook over half of the total time spent online, they didn’t not find any direct correlation that linked social media use with the results of depression screenings the students undertook as part of the study. Researchers concluded that the amount of time someone spends on Facebook does not increase their likelihood of becoming depressed.

Researchers also commented that parents shouldn’t worry about the amount of time their child spends on the site as long as their child’s behavior hasn’t already changed for the worse, such as failing grades, a decrease in social interactions, or a loss of friends.

Timothy Lemke blogs about health news for Dr. Timothy Harbolt, a dentist in Salem Oregon at Smiles Dental.

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