Facebook can help friends stay connected and may even boost an individual's self-esteem. But researchers at the University of Montreal recently found that the social network may play a role in negatively affecting teens when it comes to their stress levels.
As it turns out, having more friends isn't always better. In a study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, researchers found that once teens exceeded 300 friends, their levels of the stress hormone cortisol tended to be higher than teens who had fewer than 300 friends.
In the experiment, 88 participants aged 12 to 17 were asked about their Facebook use, including how often they visited the site, how many friends they had, how they promoted themselves on the network and how they supported their friends online. Cortisol samples were also collected from the adolescents four times a day for three days, and the researchers found that teens with more than 300 Facebook pals showed consistently higher levels of cortisol.
Of course, Facebook isn't the only stress hormone-raising factor in an adolescent's life; there's puberty, homework and the requisite schoolyard drama in play.
"While other important external factors are also responsible, we estimated that the isolated effect of Facebook on cortisol was around 8 percent," professor Sonia Lupien, the study's lead author, said in a statement. "We were able to show that beyond 300 Facebook friends, adolescents showed higher cortisol levels."
While outside the scope of this study, it's well documented that elevated cortisol levels can be dangerous over time. One previous study found that experiencing excessive stress as a young teen is often a predictor of depression later in adolescence.
"We did not observe depression in our participants. However, adolescents who present high stress hormone levels do not become depressed immediately; it can occur later on," Lupien said. "Some studies have shown that it may take 11 years before the onset of severe depression in children who consistently had high cortisol levels."
Teens who are big Facebook users tend to have narcissistic qualities and receive lower grades in school, according to previous research that assessed depressive symptoms. Experts say that talking to kids at an early age about the do's and dont's of social media can help minimize some adverse effects of online networks.
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