University students who limited their social media use to around 30 minutes a day later performed better on tests measuring their anxiety, depression, loneliness and fear of missing out, researchers report.

Other tests showed they apparently approached life more optimistically, according to the study published by the journal Technology Mind and Behavior.

Mental health benefits were seen even in participants who sometimes exceeded the 30-minute daily limit.

This study really demonstrates that reducing the time spent on social networks is responsible for improving the psychological well-being of young people, commented Professor Caroline Fitzpatrick, an expert from the University of Sherbrooke who holds the Chair Canada’s research on children’s use of digital media.

“We’re going to manipulate the media habits of young people a bit, we’re going to ask young people to self-regulate their habits,” she said. Then we don’t intervene, we let them act as they usually do. (In this way), we can really come to support cause and effect relationships. I think that’s why this study is so valuable. »

Before the start of the study, subjects spent an average of nearly three hours and thirty minutes on social media each day, primarily Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube, and Facebook. TikTok was the most popular app, with an average usage of 95 minutes per day.

About half of the participants had moderate or high symptoms of anxiety; 59% moderate or high symptoms of depression; and 44% reported a high sense of loneliness.

The experiment was carried out with 230 students from Iowa State University. About 100 of them received a two-week daily reminder not to spend more than 30 minutes a day on social media.

Several of the subjects reported that “weaning” was difficult at first, but then they felt more productive and more in touch with their own lives. They also started spending more face-to-face time with those around them.

Other studies that have sought to limit young people’s use of social media have used more “invasive” strategies for the participant, the authors of the new study point out, such as installing apps to monitor time. screensavers or even clear social network applications.

In this case, they continue, they wanted to see if an approach that empowered the young person could be effective in improving his mental health.

“These findings indicate that self-monitoring of limited social media use may be a practical intervention to improve psychological well-being,” they write. It is also notable that, without requiring total abstinence from social media, encouraging limited use through a daily reminder email can actually reduce the negative impact on psychological well-being. »

It is indeed “very interesting to use a more empowering practice” instead of external regulation or imposing limits, Ms. Fitzpatrick said.

Research has previously shown that young people know very well that they spend too much time online, and they are worried about it, she added.

“So we don’t need to use a judgmental approach, we don’t necessarily need to use restriction,” the researcher said. Young people can be trusted. They’re not docile in all of this, they’re making decisions, they’re thinking about their sanity, and they’re thinking about their digital habits. So it’s really worth using this kind of strategy where young people are actively involved in establishing their own numerical balance. »

The crucial aspect of this experiment, the American researchers point out, is not whether or not the young person succeeded in limiting his use of social networks to thirty minutes a day: the crucial aspect is that the participants tried to limit their use. . The intervention was thus found to be effective even in those who exceeded the permitted limit.

The researchers conclude by saying that future studies should focus on how young people use the time they no longer devote to social networks, to explore the link between these activities and their mental health.