Review: Social networking sites and associations with depressive and anxiety symptoms in children and adolescents - a systematic review

Child Adolesc Ment Health. 2020 Nov;25(4):201-216. doi: 10.1111/camh.12373. Epub 2020 Mar 6.


Background: Given social networking sites (SNSs) have become a pervasive part of culture; it is critical to understand the ways in which they may be advantageous or detrimental to the mental health of young people. This systematic narrative review examined the relationships between SNS and depressive and anxiety symptoms in the child and adolescent population (5-18 years).

Methods: Four databases were searched, and all articles between January 2005 and March 2019 were identified.

Results: Increased time spent or frequency of SNS use, and problematic and addictive behaviour on SNS were significantly associated with higher levels of depressive symptoms. Two cross-sectional studies found that increased time spent or frequency of SNS use and higher levels of investment on SNS were significantly associated with higher levels of anxiety symptoms. However, other potential confounding factors could explain the relationship between SNS and depressive and anxiety symptoms, including perceived social support, social comparison and fear of missing out (FoMO).

Conclusions: While there is evidence that there is a relationship between SNS and anxiety and depressive symptoms, the effect size tends to be small and informed by studies of poor quality. Therefore, results should be interpreted cautiously. Methodological issues in conceptualising SNS complicated the findings. Future studies should explore the various conditions by which SNS may either interfere or enhance the development of emotional regulation in young people. These findings help to inform clinicians and educators in targeting vulnerable young people who are at risk of developing mental health problems.

Keywords: Internet usage; Mental health; anxiety; depression.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Anxiety* / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Child Behavior*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Depression* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Internet Addiction Disorder* / epidemiology
  • Social Media*
  • Social Networking*