Editor’s Note: This article is from our Science for Kids series, aimed at children in grades 4-8.
COLUMBIA — Have you ever scrolled through your Facebook feed and noticed how wonderful your friends’ lives seem to be? Let’s say you slip some scrolling time in between classes at school. All of a sudden you see a picture of the vacation your best friend took to the Bahamas with her family. You marvel at how beautiful and trendy they look on the beach, with its nearly white sand and clear blue ocean. A few seconds later, you spot a photo of your other friend and his brand new iPhone 6. Sure, the bathroom selfie might be a bit much, but he did get an iPhone.
Around this time you might start to feel bad about yourself. Why didn’t your parents take you to the Bahamas? Why couldn’t they have gotten you a new phone? You start feeling bad about your life, wishing it were like your friends’.
It turns out that the situation described above is quite common. It is called Facebook Envy, a term created by a team of researchers led by University of Missouri professor Margaret Duffy. It describes the feeling people may get when they start comparing their lives to the lives to those of their Facebook friends. In the study, the researchers surveyed 736 college students from the University of Missouri and found that the more they compared themselves to others on Facebook and felt worse about their lives as a result, the more likely they are to get depressed.
Duffy said this could be a serious problem. “We think our results show that Facebook Envy is a significant risk factor for depression, enough that we need to be aware of it,” she said.
Sounds kind of intense, doesn’t it? You may be wondering, does all Facebook use cause depression? Well, according to the researchers, the answer is no.
Facebook can be used in many ways, and some of those uses are actually good for you. Using Facebook to stay in touch with friends and family can actually lessen depression. The danger comes through what the researchers call “surveillance” use of Facebook. Surveillance use would be “reading the ‘newsfeed,’ reading a friend’s status update, viewing a friend’s photo, and browsing a friend’s timeline.” Researchers found that people who used Facebook in this way and started comparing themselves to their friends were more likely to experience Facebook Envy, which could then lead to depression.
Facebook Envy is not the only thing in a person’s life that can make them feel depressed. Usually, depression hits because of other things as well. Often, when people go through major changes in life, such as moving to a new school, they are more likely to experience some sadness as they adjust to a new phase. That can be hard at first. But add Facebook Envy to the mix and things get a bit more complicated.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, depression symptoms include feeling sad all the time, no longer wanting to do things you used to like, feeling like there is no hope, feeling angry all the time, pushing friends and family away, feeling bad about yourself and sometimes even feeling physically sick! [If you feel any of these symptoms ,be sure to tell your parents or a trusted adult.]
So how is it that someone can avoid depression? Should everyone quit Facebook? Well, if you are under 13 years old, you shouldn’t be using Facebook anyway without your parents’ permission. If you are older, what can be done? One thing is to realize that Facebook users tend to only post about the good things in their lives. Your friend might have posted a nice photo of her vacation in the Bahamas, but the day before she didn’t post a photo of her bad hair day. Your other friend might have posted a selfie of his brand new phone, but he didn’t post a photo of the “D” he got on his math test. It can help to remember that everyone has bad days and bad experiences that don’t get posted on Facebook.
Facebook use can be good. It can make your relationships better and even help you with boredom. But it can also be bad if you compare your life with your friends’. Instead, the researchers said that it’s better for students to focus on their good relationships and to make sure to keep friends and family close by. We may think that our lives are not as cool compared to others’ lives but remember: the grass is not always greener on the other side, and neither is a Facebook newsfeed.