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Problematic social media use and psychological symptoms in adolescents.

PURPOSE: This study examined time trends in significant child and adolescent psychological symptoms and explored the association of frequent and problematic social media use with these symptoms.

METHODS: Time trends in psychological symptoms were assessed using data from five waves of the international survey of Health Behavior in School-aged Children (HBSC), conducted between 2001 and 2018 (N = 1,036,869). The associations of frequent and problematic social media use with significant psychological symptoms were assessed by hierarchical multinomial logistic regression using data from 2001-2002 and the 2017-2018 survey waves. The direction of effect between social media use variables and psychological symptoms was explored using Linear Non-Gaussian Acyclic Models (LiNGAM).

RESULTS: Prevalence of more severe psychological symptoms increased from 6.7% in 2001-2002 to 10.4% in the 2017-2018 survey waves. The increase was especially large among 15-year old and older girls: from 10.9 to 19.1%. The higher prevalence of more severe psychological symptoms in 2017-2018 compared with 2001-2002 was eliminated after adjusting the model for problematic social media use. LiNGAM analysis supported the direction of effect going from social media use and problematic social media use to psychological symptoms.

CONCLUSIONS: The findings suggest that frequent and problematic use of social media contribute to the increasing trend of psychological symptoms in adolescents in recent years.

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