As social media use increases throughout the adolescent years, so too do symptoms of depression, according to new research.

But while a similar trend can be identified with TV watching, the same can’t be said for video game use, according to the research led by University of Montreal psychology professor Patricia Conrod.

“We were a little surprised,” she told CTV News Channel on Tuesday, noting that the content on the screen is more important than the use of the screen itself.

“What is most disturbing for many people is this upwards social comparison phenomenon,” she said. “The tendency to only see the brighter side of everyone’s lives and then to somehow misinterpret the fact that people’s lives are really like that all the time and to compare yourself to them.”

The research, published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, followed almost 4,000 kids for an average of four years beginning at age 12. They were asked to track their screen time use and self-report their mental well-being. The results showed that screen time use increased after Grade 7 when 50 per cent of youth reported spending 1.5 hours per day or more on just social media. By Grade 11, participants reported spending at least 2.5 hours per day on social media. Symptoms of depression were found to increase along with social media and television screen time.

Conrod said her team tested a hypothesis that perhaps screen time was replacing activities that would benefit a participant’s well-being, but found no evidence for that. Instead, a common feature of social media and TV was the prevailing explanation:

“They really feed into this tendency to show adolescence images that promote an upward social comparison,” she said. “Images that present their peers or similar aged youth in more favourable life conditions in glossy images. It makes people compare themselves to unrealistic ideals.”