By Stephen Beech via SWNS
Teenagers from deprived backgrounds are more likely to report an addiction to Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and other social media, according to new research.
The findings from the first study of its kind show a link between economic inequality and problematic use of social network platforms and instant messaging apps.
The situation is even worse in schools where wealth and social differences exist between classmates, indicates the study, published in the journal Information Communication & Society.
Researchers say their findings, based on more than 179,000 schoolchildren in 40 countries, indicate that new strategies are needed for social media use to reduce the impact of deprivation.
They believe that action by policymakers could help limit young people’s dysfunctional or abnormal behavior, such as being unable to reduce screen time or lying to friends and family about the extent of their social media use.
Study lead author Dr. Michela Lenzi, an Associate Professor in psychology at the University of Padua in Italy, said: “These findings indicate the potentially harmful influences of inequality at the individual, school and country level on adolescents’ problematic social media use.
“Policymakers should develop actions to reduce inequalities to limit maladaptive patterns of social media use by adolescents.
“As the digital divide continues to close in many countries, economic inequalities persist and remain a robust social determinant of adolescent health and well-being. Schools represent an ideal setting to foster safe and prosocial online behaviors.”
She said many young people use social media every day and the benefits to well-being are well-documented, as are the risks.
But problematic social media use (PSMU) is not formally recognized as a behavioral addiction - although it is regarded as a health issue affecting young people.
Dr. Lenzi said the study aimed to investigate the links between socio-economic inequalities, measured at individual, school and country level, and adolescent PSMU.
The research team also evaluated the role of peer and family support as moderators of the associations.
The findings were based on 179,049 children aged 11, 13 and 15 from 40 countries including most of Europe and Canada. Evidence came from the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children, an international World Health Organisation (WHO) collaborative study carried out every four years.
The researchers asked children to complete questionnaires in order to identify addiction-like behavior associated with social media. The forms were filled out anonymously while supervised in the classroom by a teacher or trained interviewer.
Any child who reported six or more items was identified as having PSMU. The items included feeling bad when not using social media, trying but failing to spend less time using it, and using social media to escape from negative feelings.
An index based on material assets in the home or family activities was used to calculate scales of deprivation. Items included number of bathrooms, and how many family vacations out of the country in the past year.
The researchers measured country wealth, and family/peer social support, such as the degree of help provided by relatives and friends. They also took into account the proportion of the population who used the internet in each country.
The findings showed that adolescents who were relatively more deprived than their schoolmates and attended more economically unequal schools were more likely to report PSMU.
Dr. Lenzi added: "The association with a wealth divide among pupils in the same class was stronger in youths with lower peer support.
"But a link between country income inequality and PSMU was only found in adolescents reporting low levels of family support."
She said there may be many reasons for the link between economic deprivation and PSMU.
One theory suggested by the research team is that sharing images or videos resonates especially with the more deprived adolescents because they associate them with power and status.
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